"The under 25s are an abomination and a disgrace to our society." Discuss.

Youth of today
Last week’s Sunday Times carried a pretty thin article repeating lots of the old stories about audiences behaving badly. The hook is that “A number of West End theatres are now employing bouncers to cope with intoxicated patrons” – quite what drove the Times, The Telegraph and The Mail to all discover this as a huge problem on the same sleepy Sunday morning remains a mystery, as does why they all seem to have interviewed the same people and use the same structure to their articles*, but anyway, we’ll leave that to the journalists concerned.

The thesis of the articles is that the problem is driven by cheap ticket prices and the availability of alcohol in the auditorium. Ronald Harwood (Collaboration) says that he is “deeply opposed to the taking of drink into the auditorium”, which is self-serious enough to surely be meant in parody. But that’s nothing, nothing compared to the comments section on the Mail’s website. Sue from “Soutyhampton” is my favourite:

This is what happens when tickets are given away to under 25s. They have no social skills at all. They are vulgar and have no culture at all. It is a complete waste of money. It should have been given to families with an increase in culture but cannot afford the tickets. Or it could have been given to pensioners who likewise are unable to afford tickets. The under 25s are an abomination and a disgrace to our society.

So, should alcohol be banned from the theatre? I mean, it obviously goes without saying (unless you’re Harwood or read the Daily Mail) than no, of course not. First, people can drink before the theatre if they want to. Second, it’s not as if you can really drink THAT much actually during the performance; even during the epic August: Osage County I only got through three gin and tonics, and don’t get me wrong – I was trying. Third, there are plenty of examples of theatre venues which allow drinks in (e.g. the National) while managing to prevent widespread civil unrest. Fourth, there are plenty of examples of places other than theatres where drinks are consumed (e.g. restaurants, pubs, airplanes) and people don’t generally go around pissing in the corner.

Are cheap tickets the devil’s work? Well, no, again, obviously not, in fact it goes without saying that they’re a good thing – or should go without saying anyway. There are plenty of fine venues which give away tickets for very little (or, indeed, nothing at all) without notable bad behaviour: the National, the RSC, the Royal Opera House, everybody involved in the Night Less Ordinary scheme, etc, etc.

(By the way, if you can’t get any of those cheap deals, you might want to try the Buy One Get One Free offer from the Telegraph box office, or the Daily Mail’s Theatre Travel Breaks or, even better, the free programme and champagne from the Times> when you book for the Bridge Project.)

* The similarities in the articles are striking. All three open on the “woman caught ‘pleasuring’ her partner” (although in the Telegraph’s more refined offering it is merely a couple “caught being overly intimate with one another”; both the Times and the Telegraph agree on the crucial fact that this occurred in the stalls, but the Daily Mail is strangely mute on the exact location). Next comes the theatregoer who “relieved himself” at Sondheim’s A Little Night Music (both the Times and the Mail say the cast were “stunned” by this; the Telegraph just gives us the facts). Then comes an identical quote from Nica Burns, co-owner of the Lyric and the theatrical mastermind which brought us Thriller. Then comes an identical quote from the hereto little-known bouncer Desmond Atuehene who works the door for Mamma Mia! and seemingly represents the burgeoning theatrical security industry to the Fourth Estate. Then close on the wonderful quote from Harwood. Put these together and what do you have? A story worthy of not one, but three national newspapers!