I recently went to see Arthur Miller's “A View From The Bridge’ at Theatre by the Lake, Keswick.
I had picked up the tickets thinking it would be a great thing to blog about. And, indeed, it would have been. Miller’s story, about Eddie Carbone, an Italian American Dock Worker who lives with his wife Beatrice and orphaned niece Catherine, seems so relevant (probably why so many theatres are returning to this play, unless I’ve missed some significant anniversary or something) because of its exploration of immigration issues, which are so pertinent to today’s society. I wanted to talk about how fantastic the acting was. How the accents were downplayed just enough to avoid corny distraction. I wanted to talk about the fantastic revolving set design... But during the performance there was something equally fascinating, and dare I say less quantifiable, going on in the auditorium...
Apparently when you get past a certain age, it is de riguer to attend theatre matinees. Did everyone except me know this? We took our seats (the bar stool ones to the left within the actor's spit range) and watched the auditorium fill. It slowly dawned on me that in a room with maybe two hundred people, we were a minority group. ‘We’ being anyone under the age of seventy. I counted five of us. Fair play, I thought. Husband leaned over on his perch and whispered, “A prize for spotting who was a hotty back in their day.” I scoffed, disgusted at his blatant ageism, and then noticed a rather dapper looking gent in jeans and shirt, with a sweep of carefully coiffed silver hair. “Four rows back next to the lady in the turquoise,” I muttered, hating myself a little. “What about you?”
But just then, the lights began to fade, and we dutifully sat back and shut up. Ambient lighting filled the stage, and a cast of Brooklyn residents set the scene. But my eyes were drawn away from the action, back at the audience where there seemed to be a general consensus that they were entitled to finish their indepth and long winded conversations before entering into the spirit of quiet observant theatre goers. It was tempting to shush loudly. A reflex response. But everyone knows you can only shush people younger than yourself. Which left precious few options.
If this were the only misdemeanour, it would be forgivable. But next, began the great toffee unwrapping. As a child, I was only permitted non wrapped sweets in an uncrackly packet at the theatre or cinema. And if crackly-packeted was the only option, then I would have to wait until a moment of clapping or loud dynamic action to dive in and quickly unwrap. I knew the consequences… Apparently this octogenarian audience didn't - had never had such an education - and rustled their toffee papers with gay abandon. I’m not exaggerating, the auditorium positively crackled like TV static with the mass unwrapping of Werther's and Chocolate Limes. (Funny how some older people refer to all brand of sweets, whether fruit based, chocolate or caramel, as toffees - gross generalisation, I know... and more senior readers, feel free to put me straight on it!) But rustling abounded. Do I sound precious? Even husband, who never had the non-wrapped toffee rule enforced, found it distracting.
And it didn’t end there. The performance was punctuated with inappropriate laughing, comments and exclamations. Saucy moments were deemed raucous beyond the chortle it mustered from me, leaving me wondering if there was some generation specific joke that had evaded me. Other moments inspired ooohs and tuts and giggles like they were watching a Carry On. Here and there someone would call out some witty rebuff about the action. The actors battled on. I bit my tongue.
The crunch came at the end. Eddie was in the throes of his climactic dramatic death. (Sorry if this is a spoiler...) I sat with bated breath. But in the dramatic pause before the narrator stepped forward to complete the play, several audience members decided that that was enough of an ending for them and upped and left, before an applause could even vaguely start. Well, they’d seen him cark it, so why wait?
Do you think I’m being too harsh? I don’t. This blog is heading in the direction of a badly told anecdote and it's tempting to end weakly with that old line “you had to be there.” I had felt temporarily disgruntled by their bad behaviour. Until I thought about it a bit and brought to mind the poem by Jenny Joseph Warning which begins 'When I am an old woman I shall wear purple'. This audience all had their ‘purple’ on. They were having a ball. They enjoyed themselves and responded to the play with emotional honesty. It reminded me of a time I took a group of young people to see a production of Romeo and Juliet. Juliet was wearing an ill judged length of skirt for a raked stage, which the boys in the group openly perved up. At the end when Juliet, sorry to spoil it again, died (à la Primary School murder-in-the-dark) it was met by open laughter and cheers. I did my best to quell the baying audience. But in all fairness it had been a dire performance and I concurred with the general reaction.
So I have resolved, based on observance of the old and the young, that I need to get over myself and that I, too, should become a miscreant theatre goer. I will book cheap, last-minute seats to performances and leave all my reserve with the ushers at the doors. I will laugh when I think it’s funny, even if no one else does. I will chew, suck and chomp toffees loudly and rattle the packet as I pass it along the row to vaguely grateful strangers. If I need a wee / walk around / drink in the middle of the act I will just get up and go. I will be a purple wearing theatre goer before my time. I will not be a passive watcher, but become part of the action. Isn't that so much better?