Monday, 25 March 2013

Mobile phones at the theatre - detract from "Other Desert Cities".

Recently, I purchased a mini-subscription to the Melbourne Theatre Company's 2013 season.  It's been a few years since I had the funds and also the interest to invest in this way.  I've seen three plays and have two more to come.  Everything I've seen so far has been incredible - thought-provoking, moving, funny - everything you want live theatre to be.

On Saturday I went and saw "Other Desert Cities" at the Sumner Theatre.  The play itself has all the credentials - Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award nominations - and I'm not going to write a review of the play.  I will tell you that I tingled in the most dramatic moments and resolved into tears in the next moment.

As amazing as these moments were, they were spoiled.  It wasn't anything about the actors on stage, or the production itself.  No.  In the climactic scene a mobile phone rang.  When a mobile phone rings in this situation, it's not just the phone that causes a disturbance.  This particular phone's jaunty tune went for a long time, accompanied by whispers of "shit, shit, shit, shit" as the owner rustled through her bag. The phone is found and removed from the bag and the muffling effect of the bag disappears as the phone cuts clearly through the quiet of the auditorium.  The audience becomes restless.  Heads shake at the impropriety of it all.  There is a flicker of distraction that runs across the actors' faces.  The phone choked, we all return to the play.

Now, the climactic scene of this play is meaty.  Emotions are running high, secrets are revealed, characters shock us with their passion and deception.  You need to pay attention - you want to pay attention.  Then a second phone rings.  This one is two rows in front of me and I can see the owner.  Audience members around me start to groan and tut.  The phone is choked rapidly.  I want to choke the owner.

We settle back  Where were we?  Ah yes.  A third phone rings.  Just behind me - one row back, three seats away and within reach.  She actually leaves the theatre with her bag.  Good riddance I say.

Prior to the commencement of the play, a clear specific announcement is made to the audience, echoing the signs lining the entrance foyer:  "Please turn your mobile phone off."  The announcement even contextualises by adding "for the sake of the actors and the audience".

What is so hard about turning off the mobile phone?  Or if it must be left on, turning it to silent?  All three interruptions on Saturday occurred after interval.  Perhaps the announcement needs to be made after interval as well.  I find it difficult to understand why people can't take personal responsibility for this stuff anyway.  Why can't people consider their surroundings and be well-mannered enough to consider that it will be bad if their phone rings during the show.  Surely they aren't going to answer it while watching a play! So go on, switch it off.

Apart from being really annoyed myself, people were talking about the phones ringing, rather than the play on the way out of the theatre.  Such a distraction!  The actors did well (it must be so tempting to turn to the audience and berate them!).

Go and see this play.  And if you do, for goodness sake, turn your phone off!

What would be an appropriate punishment for people who leave their phones on?  Has your phone ever rung at an inopportune time?  What did you do?

1 comment:

  1. i've never had my phone ring in the middle of theatre/movie/orchestral concert. probably because i always keep my phone on silent/vibrate anyway. i even get a bit embarrassed if it's on vibrate because i consider that a bit loud as well.
    i get very annoyed at people who don't turn off their phones, and it happens more often than not. i remember that my school's head of music (very old school englishman) used to stop performances if he ever heard a phone ring and stare at the offender... and then restart the whole piece if need be.