Sunday, 30 December 2012

Is it OK to boo in a theatre?

My wife and I had our annual Christmas theatre trip on Friday, going to the Southwark Playhouse to see something called ‘Feathers in the Snow’ by Philip Ridley. The preview blurb made it look interesting, a tale for all the family with a dark edge, but ten minutes into the show we knew had made a bad choice.

It was theatre at its worst; clunky, with a plot that rattled along too quickly and become very repetitive, and hitting the audience over the head with a moralistic message that stated the obvious point that war is bad. I could imagine it being served up in a school hall by a travelling theatre group as part of an educational programme, but even on that basis it worked badly and it was way short of the minimum standard I’d expect from anything that gets into a regular theatre.

But we endured it. It’s partly because we’re both inclined to stick out a performance of any kind to the end; although we were also conscious that the young cast were trying very hard to make the best of a bad job. But we were bored rotten, and by the second half I was wondering if it would be acceptable to start booing.

I’ve always thought there are occasions when it’s OK voice displeasure at a bad performance. If you pay good money to sit and watch something you’re entitled to let those responsible know that you’re disappointed. It happens at football, when the home team plays badly and their supporters give the players some verbal stick. It’s part of the blooding for stand-up comedians to get booed offstage. And a few bands have suffered far worse in being chased off stage by flying bottles at rock festivals.

I wouldn’t boo during a performance; there’s a chance that some other members of the audience are enjoying themselves and it wouldn’t be fair to spoil it for them. But surely it’s OK to abstain from the round of applause at the end of the show and let loose a bellow of disdain? After all, I had just forked out £16 to waste two hours that would have been better spent at home on the sofa.

In the end I didn’t. Maybe I didn’t want to upset the actors. Maybe I was too polite. Maybe I’ve been conditioned by the idea that booing isn’t something that you do in a theatre, even if you’ve just been subjected to two hours of torture by boredom. But for what it’s worth, I can now offer a one word review: “Boooooooooo!”

Mark Say's collection of fiction, Perversities of Faith, is available on and Also check out

1 comment:

  1. Go ahead and boo! Theatre is all about engagement with the audience. Takes a brave man - or woman - to be the first to boo tho!