Everyone’s a Critic: The Gogglebox Effect

Posted on 1 June 2015

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a great believer in good theatre etiquette. That means no eating, no texting, no photography, no getting up to go to the loo halfway through, unless it’s an absolute emergency - basically, sit still, keep quiet and watch the show. Thank you very much.

I’ve ranted about this on many occasions, not that it seems to make much difference (I think the people who read and emphatically agree are not the culprits, sadly). But there’s a new habit I’ve noticed on the rise recently, and I’m going to christen it the Gogglebox Effect.

For readers not from the UK, Gogglebox is a TV show about people watching TV. Yes, that really is all it is. They watch TV, and they comment on it. Personally, I’ve never really understood the appeal, but millions of people watch the show every week and love it.

Where am I going with this, you may ask? Well. Last week I went to see Les Miserables at the Queens Theatre, one of my favourite musicals. The show itself was as fantastic as ever, with some amazing performances, particularly from Peter Lockyer (Jean Valjean), David Thaxton (Javert) and Carrie Hope Fletcher (Eponine). And it got a well-deserved standing ovation at the end, which is not bad for a show that’s been going 30 years. 

But… I couldn’t enjoy Les Mis as much as I would have liked, because I was growing increasingly furious with all the people around me who felt they had to provide commentary throughout the show. Even during the quiet bits, when everyone around (including, probably, the actors) could hear them.

So here’s my rant: we don’t need to be told that 'On My Own' was ‘very good’. We know it was very good, because we just heard it, and now we’re applauding, so obviously we agree. We also don’t want to hear the plot explained, at normal speaking volume (I mean, seriously, at least try and lower your voice). And no, we don’t care who you think is giving the best performance so far. Sorry.

Going to the theatre is not the same as sitting at home watching TV. You can say what you like to the TV; it can’t hear you, and won’t be put off by whatever you say. And the only other people in the living room are family and friends (and maybe the cat), who presumably don't mind chatting through a programme - and if they do, they can always pause, rewind and record shows to watch later.

But in the theatre, those are real people performing live. For you, and the hundreds of other people who’ve paid good money - sometimes a lot of it - to see the show, not to listen to you talk about the show. And there’s no live pause in theatre; if you miss something once, there are no second chances.

Please don’t get me wrong: I’m all for people having opinions, especially about theatre. But the time to share them is at the interval or after the show, not during. So please let’s keep Gogglebox on TV, and leave the theatre alone.

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