Fordyce Maxwell: Have live audiences always been as bad-mannered?

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FOR her birthday we took Ebba to see Scottish Ballet perform The Nutcracker. I fully expect a five-year-old to remember the pre-performance pasta and ice cream more vividly than the ballet – plus the interval ice cream she also polished off – but I enjoyed it.

Not least for the audience behaviour. As about half of that audience was girls under ten, some encouraged by fond parents to get in on the act with pink wings and ballet dresses – no, Ebba wasn’t and neither were we – I thought there might be a lot of extraneous noise. Not so. Even when the music was low and the sound of ballet shoes on stage heard clearly, there was seldom a sound from the audience until applause began.

The only real annoyance was caused by that unwritten law for any live show, or film, that those with centre seats in any row must arrive last and late, not only for the start, but again after the interval.

A corollary is that they should be carrying drinks, popcorn and sweets to keep starvation and thirst at bay for an hour and stumble twice. Giggling is optional.

Have some live audiences always been as restive, bad-mannered and famished? Possibly, not forgetting that not so long ago, certainly in cinemas, many of us were smoking.

So added to the drinks, confectionery and popcorn and the parsimonious with their sandwiches, there was a fug of smoke, the glow of cigarette ends and the occasional close-proximity minor burn – and I’d almost forgotten the chewing gum that used to be an essential part of the evening.

That’s talking mainly about the good old days of film-going as a youngster. Live theatre of any kind came later for me, those performances described by veteran actors as the art of preventing a large group of people from coughing, or using mobile phones.

But if audience behaviour at live performances has deteriorated and I’m not simply older and grumpier, the rise and rise of stand-up comedy might have something to do with it.

When so many comedians rely on audience participation – that is, patsies in the front row or two being made to look silly, even sillier if they try to compete with the professional – does that carry over to other live shows?

“He’s behind you!” is an integral part of pantomime. We accept that. The problem too often now at more serious shows, where we’ve paid for what’s on stage not in the audience, is that “He’s in front of you!” talking over the action or “He’s beside you!” eating crisps and slugging a fizzy drink.

Twitter: @FordyceMaxwell