Theatre Etiquette – Guest Post


Back in July of last year I commented on my post Standing Ovations, that a theatre etiquette post would be done at a future date. Well that date is now and I’m grateful to Namrata Shah for writing this guest post. Namrata works for Shows In London, check out their website for some great deals.

So over to Nams:

Theatre Etiquette

Watching a West End show is a magical experience: from the moment you step into one of the theatres’ auditoria your senses are treated to the stunning interior. The moment the curtain goes up, the hushed anticipation amongst the audience is palpable. As you journey through the scenes, you immerse yourself into the stories of the characters. And as the cast take their bows, you stand in ovation – left wanting more. Well, that’s “ideal” scenario for a perfect trip to the theatre.

On average, attending a theatre show is a yearly occurrence for many – and those who go, know there is a certain behaviour expected of them. For those new to the scene, it can be a daunting prospect. Just Google “Theatre Etiquette” and you’ll find scores of solemn posts on what is right and wrong. So Andrew Peterson, with over 25 years of experience in tickets for Shows in London, talks through his light-hearted version of the Dos and Don’ts of theatre-going.

Dress code?

The question most often asked at Shows in London is what should I wear at the theatre? The answer is: clothes. Whilst a loin-cloth might be technically acceptable it should only be worn by people with the body for it. Across the pond, on Broadway, it is more common to dress formally; although full-blown evening gowns and tuxedos are no longer required, you’re sure to turn heads if you arrive in ripped jeans and ill-fitting hooded sweatshirt, more frequently referred to as a “hoodie” by today’s youth. Thankfully though, here in London, there is no formal dress code.

Sounds during the performance

Another area of great debate amongst the theatreati is on the subject of noise in the auditorium. I believe it’s unreasonable to expect complete silence and stillness from a human audience – part of the beauty of theatre is the experience of a live performance and that comes with its very own collection of sound effects. Nevertheless, leaving a mobile phone able to ring during the show is completely unacceptable. Luckily it has been a while since I’ve heard the trill of a ringtone mid-performance – but the last time I did, it was an ill-fated young lady who had to root around her over-sized handbag whilst the audience were treated to a rendition of “the crazy frog”. This was a good 5 years after “the crazy frog” craze. If the surrounding weren’t so dark, I’m sure we’d have also witnessed an extremely red face.

In the same arena lies the question of whether it is acceptable to answer calls (no!) and check text messages (only if you are discreet and your phone doesn’t emit a phosphorescent glow similar to nuclear waste on TV shows from the 70s). I would take my cue from any tutting from fellow audience members. Until someone huffs-and-puffs, keep going!

Talking, however, is another matter. Gasps, cheers and screams (think Woman in Black) are fine. But frequent elucidations of the plot are a no-no. I remember a theatre goer who would lean over to his wife after every joke, with a lengthy explanation of why it was funny.

How about other bodily noises? I do feel sympathy for those afflicted with unexpected coughs, insofar as I feel bad that they’ll have to scramble past the entire row of seats and won’t be able to do it quickly or efficiently. My sympathy wears pretty thin when we approach the second or third minute of coughing, and they stay seated with no attempt to resolve the situation.

The expulsion of gases from any other orifice is completely unacceptable, as in any other social situation.


All theatres have well-stocked bars and snack stands. Of course, the pricing on these items don’t present value-for-money, but if you’ve forked out enough to purchase your theatre ticket, a few extra pounds on a drink or bite won’t break the bank.

The worst thing you could do is ‘bring your own..’. Snacks sold in the theatre are often chosen with great care, so as to create the least noise. Munching on crisps from a crinkly bag is a sure-fire way to get your fellow audience members’ knickers in a twist.


Those without sprogs of their own, I find, are much less tolerant of young people’s behaviour in any public space – not just at the theatre. That said, some shows are completely inappropriate for younger audiences. Not just because the content might be rated, or even might go over their head. Children aren’t well known for their ability to sit still and stay focussed for huge lengths of time – and a 2 and a half hour show isn’t the place to test them.

I could wax lyrical on the subject of children at the theatre, but in short, if you’re not 100% certain that they won’t be a nuisance, arrange for a baby-sitter for the evening or the fail-safe option of a “sleepover at granny and grampa’s”.

Leaving before the end

Let’s face it. There will always be a time when a show fails to live up to expectations. The question now is – do you leave before the end? The interval duck-out is the easiest and most considerate option for all. But if you’ve found yourself at this juncture mid-performance, then you may leave under the following conditions only, with no exceptions: you are sitting in an aisle seat, near the back, and are not laden with much luggage. If your situation doesn’t fit the bill, then sorry – it’ll just be another hour-or-so till freedom!

Let us know if there are any other points of theatre etiquette that deserve a mention.


6 thoughts on “Theatre Etiquette – Guest Post

  1. Thanks for this post Nams.

    My only area I totally disagree with you is with regards checking texts. That’s a no no in my book at ANY time. NOTHING is that important that it can’t wait an hour or so.

    Turn your phones/ipads off and go and become immersed in the world the show is creating for you.

    I was watching a very emotional play called “The Lady of Burma”, it’s all about the imprisonment of Aung San Suu Kyi. It was a small studio theatre with just one actor onstage throughout and during a particularly tense moment, an audience members phone went off, loudly playing Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5”. She quickly turned it off and at end apologised to actor on stage and entire audience. At least she had decency to apologise.

    Thanks again.

    • Hey Dominick,
      Thanks fair enough – perhaps I should have added “absolutely for emergency situations only” to avoid encouraging usage throughout a performance, which I also feel is a no-no.

  2. I’m not sure I agree with the comment about checking text messages. There should be no need to check your phone mid show. If we are saying it is acceptale for text messages, then that just opens the door for constant Twitter updates throughout the show too.

  3. You say don’t bring your own food which is normally not a bad idea unless like me you happen to have food allergies. When that is the case it really is easier to bring food from home. I always bring it in zip-lock bags that make little to no noise unlike crisp bags. It is really hard to find food I can eat in a snack bar and so I will continue to discretely and above all quietly bring my own.

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