Monday March 4, 2024


November 26 2011

On Wednesday evening, November 23, Belvoir�s last main-stage production of 2011 had its official opening night. As You Like It is one of Shakespeare�s favourite flummeries: glorious nonsense that�s one of his (or the Earl of Oxford�s) most popular comedies.

It was a much-anticipated opening � and I was looking forward to it. Unfortunately the man sitting next to me anticipated it even more. He was one of those insiders (aka actors with a pal in the cast) whose main aim in life is to laugh and laugh and laugh and laugh and let everyone within a 10m radius know that the production is really really really FUNNY; that he absolutely GETS IT and that he wants us all to know this and keep on knowing it, until the final curtain.

These people have a lot in common with hyenas. First of all, they are oblivious to their personally generated cacophony and second, if they are, they hear nothing wrong with it. Au contraire, the Theatre Hyena actually sets out to make as much noise as possible and share it far and wide.

Somewhere in the pea brain of the Theatre Hyena is the notion that the best way to ensure the success of a show and the happiness of the Bestie who is in it is to establish, without doubt, that what the audience is witnessing is the funniest thing since Buster Keaton or Ricky Gervais or whomever. To accomplish this, the Theatre Hyena laughs at anything, whether intentionally funny or not. And, even better, laughs at absolutely nothing, just in case.

The worst case Theatre Hyena is the physically active sub species. This one isn�t content with honking and hooting, snorking and sniggering; oh no, this one has to leap about in his seat, demonstrating unbounded amusement and his unbridled appreciation of the show. If this means jabbing the person in the next seat in the ribs or ankles, while also taking over a fair bit of that person�s seat � so be it.

Friends will be astonished by my admission that I have a fairly short fuse with people who behave (a) badly or (b) moronically, or (c) both. And when it happens in a theatre (or cinema) it�s as if someone has snipped the fuse in two. Homicidal thoughts occupy the part of my brain that should be savouring the performance on stage. So: this isn�t a review of As You Like It.

And I�m not the only Hyenaphobe in town. My friend and colleague Darryn King of Time Out wrote in a sympathetic email that he�d experienced something similar: �A bit tedious, isn't it? We were sitting next to [name deleted but available for $2] at Don Parties On � his behaviour wasn't quite as extreme as what you endured but there was a fair bit of thigh-slapping and high-pitched squawking. Fortunately nothing could have made that play any worse.� How true.


Anyway, the thing is, excessive reaction to comedy is incredibly thoughtless (unless the entire audience is simultaneously cracking up). If people aren�t laughing, it�s not your job, nor a good idea, to show them how to do it. Rather than encouraging everyone else, your cackling is actually alienating, irritating and stupid. Don�t do it.

And while we�re on the subject of etiquette. Much the same goes for texting and tweeting during a performance: you are absolutely not that interesting and none of your acquaintances will be disappointed that they haven�t heard from you for a couple of hours. Having a bit of a chat to your companion is also a no-no: you�re not on the sofa at home in front of the telly. And if you want to be � go home.

Same goes for eating and drinking: the sound of slurping, crunching and package rustling doesn�t add a thing to the carefully created soundscape of the performance. Just the opposite, in fact. So, if your constitution is so fragile that you can�t manage a couple of hours without stuffing chocs, icecream or crunchy snacks in your face, you are just not suited to being out in public with other people. Again, best thing is to stay home in front of the telly.

I�m sure there are other matters of etiquette I�ve left out; feel free to add. Meanwhile, I look forward to seeing As You Like It next week.



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