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Audiences deserve punctuality

Every effort should be made for every show to start on time. Shows run late far too often and I reckon that’s usually avoidable.

For a start I think the industry owes it to the dozens, hundreds or thousands of ticket buyers who’ve made huge efforts to be there at the advertised time.

Some of these punters, moreover, will have checked the show’s run time and arranged, for instance, transport afterwards.  Many will have travelled a considerable distance to be there. And it makes a mockery of anything they’ve planned if the show runs even ten minutes late.

Many’s the time I’ve watched the minutes tick by in the knowledge that I shall, because of a late start, miss the train I was aiming for which means I shall be at least half an hour later home at the end of the evening. And in my case that means even later midnight oil if I have a review to write.

Yes, of course, there are times when delays are completely unavoidable. I was at a fringe show in a pub theatre not so long ago when the stage manager fell off a ladder and was knocked unconscious just a few minutes before the show was due to go up.

On another occasion at a regional theatre for  touring production of A Midsummer Night’s dream “Titania” had an accident during the interval and played the second half seated and with her ankle strapped up so of course there was a delay first while she was sorted out.

And once in the Royal Festival Hall, they announced that we’d have to wait a few more minutes because conductor Sir Simon Rattle was stuck in a taxi in a traffic jam.

These things happen – but not, I contend, all that often. Most performances could, and should start on the dot of the advertised time. Few do.

The worst problem is in small fringe theatres where the culture prevails that the house isn’t declared open until five minutes (or less) before the proposed start time. It’s almost impossible to get even a smallish group of people in, seated and settled in the time allowed so of course the show routinely starts late.

Why, in most cases, can’t the audience go in earlier? Surely performers and those who work with them are ready? And if they’re not then they jolly well ought to be other than under the most unusual, unforseen circumstances such as an accident or technical fault.

It isn’t just small theatres, though. Large scale theatre frequently starts late (no reason given – audience in place) too. Punctuality needs working harder at right across the industry. If it’s show “business” then we need to be more businesslike.

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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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