Page last updated at 15:43 GMT, Monday, 3 August 2009 16:43 UK

London theatres to boost security

A barman pouring drinks
Is a liberal attitude to alcohol in theatres to blame?

A number of London's West End theatres are to boost their security to counter worsening audience behaviour, owners have said.

It comes after reports of drunkenness and even fights during performances.

The owners of several venues, including The Lyric, The Garrick and The Apollo say they'll increase security staff.

The deteriorating behaviour is being blamed on cheap tickets, attracting younger audiences, and a liberal attitude to alcohol in theatres.

Cheap tickets

Hit musicals such as Thriller - a tribute to the late Michael Jackson - are likely to benefit from beefed-up security.

Nica Burns, who co-owns the Lyric Theatre where Thriller is playing, has confirmed her company - which runs five theatres in London - is to recruit extra security.

She said: "In a show like Thriller, you may get people who have never been to the theatre before and may have been out for a drink before they arrive".

Critics believe that cut-price tickets, designed to attract younger theatre-goers, have fuelled the growth in bad behaviour.

Tickets for some productions are as low as £10, compared to normal prices often costing least three times as much.

Distractions at some theatres are reported to include a member of the audience taking photos during a performance and people in the front row sending texts.

Disruptive drinking

The leading playwright Ronald Harwood places a lot of blame with the liberal attitude to alcohol inside theatres. His play Collaboration is currently playing at the Duchess Theatre.

Playwright Ronald Harwood
Playwright Ronald Harwood is critical of theatre audiences who drink

Speaking to Radio 4's The World At One, he said: "Producers are hoping to widen the audience to a younger set, to a different class, but all I know is that when I go into see one of my plays, I am appalled by the number of people who take drinks into the auditorium."

He added that audiences didn't seem to appreciate the difference between the theatre and cinema or television.

"People shake their cups to get more drink but they don't know the actors can hear them," he said, "It's from watching too much television, they think they're in their own drawing rooms."

Calling for drinking at theatres to be banned, Mr Harwood said he wanted audiences to "enter the world of the play, not to lose concentration by knocking back drinks".

He backed the move to increase security at some theatres, saying it would help staff to regain control.

'Heavy-handed'

Some theatre companies though have a more positive view, both of young theatre-goers and drinking in venues.

The Royal Shakespeare Company has 50 tickets set aside at low prices for 16-25 year olds for every performance in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Nicky Cox, one of the RSC's front-of-house managers, said it hadn't led to any worsening in behaviour.

"Very rarely do we have problems with teenagers and the like drinking too much," she said, "If we ever do, it is with young Americans who see it as part of the experience of coming here."

She added that the extra security for London theatres seemed "a little heavy-handed".



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