Actress Imelda Staunton has spoken out against people eating in the theatre. I didn't know people ate in the theatre. I knew it happened in the cinema but I thought the theatre had managed to keep free of that blight. I get annoyed enough with people who have to open crackly sweets during musical performances.
"I don’t know why people can’t engage in just one thing. I don’t understand this obsession with having to eat or drink something at every moment of the day,” said Imelda Staunton.
I have to say that I agree with her. I would go so far as to say that I don't understand the need to eat and drink during films either. Cinema managers must have other ideas, however, because modern cinemas all seem to be fitted with a drinks holders next to every seat. But then the cinema company makes a lot of extra money out of people buying popcorn and other snacks to consume while watching the film.
Back in the day, when you had a B movie, then a break, and then the main feature, they used to have girls (always girls, with a special tray to carry their wares) come around with trays of ice cream and choc ices for the audience to buy and consume during the interval. And it was usually timed so that you could just consume your little tub of ice cream before the lights went down again for the big movie. Failing that, if you had been slow in purchasing your ice cream, you had to keep trying with your little wooden spoon to see if you had finished it. But woe betide you if you made a noise while you did so.
Of course, that was back when there still were B movies, just as records had an A side and a B side. And cinemas tended to show only one main movie for a week or two. If you wanted to see a different movie, you had to go to another cinema in town, instead of another screen in the multiplex. Or you could do what a friend of mine did and watch the same movie every day for a week, usually a John Wayne movie in her case.
Nowadays we don't have an interval so you have to take the goodies in with you. Even though you are only going to be confined to your seat for about an hour and a half. When I used to be a sixth form Modern Languages teacher, at least once a year I would take a bunch of students to see a foreign language film, followed by a workshop by some expert, usual.y from one of the Manchester universities. As regular as clockwork, one of the students was bound to ask why the Corner House, the venue for such films at the time, did not have at least a little kiosk selling bags of sweets and popcorn and bottles of fizzy drinks. Because this was a venue that expected people to be able, and to want, to concentrate on the film they were watching and reflect on the ideas. That was why!
And that's what Imelda Staunton has been going on about. She goes a step further as well, saying that people should follow her example and avoid eating when watching television at home. “I don’t do TV dinners. There might, at one point in the evening, be a very small, very naughty bowl of ice cream. But that’s not noisy.” Yes, I agree with her on that as well. And I think that there should be no television in the kitchen or the dining room. That's the kind of old fashioned I am.
The actor Kit Harington (Jon Snow in "Game of Thrones") has been said to have defended people eating in the theatre. My reading of the various articles I have come across on this topic is that Kit Harington is not so much defending eating and drinking as saying that we must not blame the young. It's certainly not just the young who indulge in a good feed and a chat during a show. He is afraid that if we blame the young, they will be put off attending the theatre: “I am afraid that, if the theatre is going to die of anything, it will be from exactly this type of stereotyping and prejudice aimed towards a new and younger generation of theatregoers." Good point!
And while I am showing myself to be perhaps a little old school, yes, I did refer to Imelda Staunton as an actress. We have a perfectly good word for a female actor, so why not use it?
Getting back to eating during performances, I think it has always been there. I an pretty sure I have read about it as being the norm back in Shakespeare's time. And I remember going to the panto for a friend's birthday treat, long ago (but not quite Shakespearean times) when we were both about eight years old. We were given money to spend on sweets to suck during the panto - sucking a sweet was recognised as a way of preventing coughing - and spent the lot on Uncle Joe's Mint Balls, very hard, long-lasting inty sweets.. They were sold at the corner shop, 2 sweets for an old penny. We had 2 shillings, 24 old pence. So we had 48 Uncle Joe's Mint Balls. By the end of the evening, despite our having taken time out to go up on stage and sing with a crowd of other children, we had scoffed the lot, the roofs of our mouths were raw and we never wanted to see another Uncle Joe's Mint Ball, let alone eat one.
So there is a long tradition of eating while you watch. But that doesn't make it right or even acceptable!