‘Show some respect’: why theatres must ban phones

It’s the height of rudeness. It’s also a first-world problem. But first world problems are still problems. And I have a huge problem with people using their phones in theatres.

It happened recently at a production of the excellent Freud’s Last Session, a two-hander starring Yannick Lawry (playing CS Lewis) and Nicholas Papademetriou (playing Freud) at Sydney’s Seymour Centre.

Dramatically, the play was stopped by Papademetriou to reprimand a woman for texting on her phone throughout. She’d arrived late and was therefore in the front row, distracting the actors.

"Get off your phone!" shouted Papademetriou from the stage, breaking from a passionate fictionalised debate the two characters were having on - get this - the meaning of life. "Put it away now!"

She eventually obliged, but was, incredibly, back on it before curtain up. It really is something when smartphones literally trump a potential answer to the meaning of life.

I’ve seen many do it. Non-watch wearers do that intermittent checking of the time using their smartphones. The illumination is highly distracting for audience members seated behind them. Worse, though, the actors and crew surrounding you have worked their guts out to bring you this performance. Show some respect.

I’m for a complete ban because existing pre-show warnings are ignored. It’s something musician Jack White did at a recent concert, supplying fans with pouches in which to lock their phones so they couldn’t use them, saying: "It was ... an art project. I want people to live in the moment."

Of the recent Sydney incident, Lawry said: "As soon as I heard Nico’s words, I thought ’good on you, mate!’ It was pretty off-putting. There’s the self doubt that makes you wonder ’am I boring you?’ closely followed by frustration at the disrespect."

The audience member later told an usher this was the first time she’d left her six-month-old at home with a babysitter. But no doubt she’d want her new babysitter, just like the actors on that stage, to give 100 per cent focus to the job they’re paid to do.

  • Gary Nunn is a freelance writer.