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Bags of officiousness

Are we actually convinced that a perfunctory glance inside the bags of theatre goers is keeping anyone safe? As I’ve said before elsewhere, I keep a sharp knife in mine for apple paring – I’m very fond of apples (“An apple a day … etc”) but have awful teeth. All quite innocent although I suppose I could do someone else quite an injury with it if I were that way inclined. No one at a theatre door has ever noticed said knife.

For that matter evil things don’t have to be in bags – I could easily carry a small gun or other nasty weapon into a theatre in a pocket  strapped under my coat or wedged in my knickers but, of course, there are no body checks in theatres. So let’s just hope that no nutter/terrorist/radical/mentally ill person (choose your term) ever does it.

I am very sceptical about the efficacy of bag checks. And I object to the side effects such as being obliged to arrive at the theatre early and then queueing up outside in the cold or rain. In fact I’m often astonished at how meekly most people comply.

And I object even more to the policy of Cambridge Arts Theatre where I saw a show last week. They don’t check the contents of bags but there are size restrictions with a template on the wall you have to measure your bag against as if you were in an airport. The mistaken implication is, presumably, that you can’t conceal  a knife or gun in a smaller bag. Now, of course, other theatres do this too – National Theatre, for example – although I walk in and out of there frequently, as well as attending shows, but I have never been challenged not even for a “random bag check”.  The FOH house woman at the entrance to the Cambridge Arts auditorium, however, took one look at my handbag – my handbag, for goodness sake – and made me measure it. “That’s just about OK” she said “but if it were any larger you’d have to put it in the cloakroom.”

Right. I never part with my handbag for anyone, anywhere. Even letting go of it for 2 minutes at airport security makes me very twitchy. It contains my notebook, pens, money, cards, tissues, i-Pad, phone, lipstick and so on. It’s almost welded to me.  Of course I’m not going to put it in a cloakroom. And actually, because I wasn’t reviewing or working that night this was one of my smaller bags (see photograph). Well let’s be clear – it wasn’t the fault of the woman talking to me. She was simply enforcing the policy of the misguided management at Cambridge Arts. My grown up granddaughters had a small, neat carrier bag with them and they really weren’t allowed to take it into the auditorium although it would have tucked tidily enough under a seat without causing any problems.

What is the rationale for this? Is it really about terrorism or are they afraid someone might try to smuggle in drinks that they haven’t purchased at one of Cambridge Arts’s pricey bars? Other venues say that “large bags” may not be taken into the theatre. Obviously you have to exercise common sense given narrow rows of seats and access issues but I know nowhere else which exercises a policy as inflexible at this.

We hear a lot these days about people who find theatres alienating, daunting, off-putting and so on. Bag policies – whether it’s inspecting the contents or draconian rules about putting them in cloakrooms –  are not going to help.

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Susan Elkin
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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