Actors reveal worst stage interruptions


BBC News asked a number of leading actors to recall their most memorable on-stage interruption

Related Stories

How do actors cope when a mobile phone - or worse - disrupts a performance? Here they share their horror stories.

"I just grit my teeth and bear it," says Sir Derek Jacobi on the subject of mobile phone interruptions.

"I can't do what several well-known actors have done - walk to the edge of the stage to say 'for God's sake turn your phone off!'"

Although most theatres implore patrons to switch off mobiles, plays can still get ruined by ringtones.

"Every theatre puts out an announcement, but it's amazing how many people are deaf to it," says Sir Derek.

Start Quote

A couple on the front row were far more interested in each other than they were in the work on the stage”

End Quote Michael Grandage, former Donmar artistic director

In 2012, it's not just been mobile phone interruptions that have made headlines.

In November, Sir Peter Hall apologised to Downton Abbey actress Laura Carmichael after he unintentionally disrupted her West End debut in Chekhov's Uncle Vanya.

The audience at the Vaudeville Theatre heard Sir Peter speaking loudly in the stalls during the play's emotional final scene. The 81-year-old later said he had been "disorientated" after falling asleep.

Not all interruptions come from the auditorium.

Simon Russell Beale had to leave the stage during a performance of Timon of Athens at the National Theatre in September after he slipped over and dislocated his finger.

"When I looked down my finger was like a Z shape," Beale recalls. "I said: 'ladies and gentleman, I think I've broken my hand.'"

Simon Russell Beale Simon Russell Beale slipped and fell during the second half of the play.

Beale was dressed as a "down and out" and smeared with tomatoes when he fell, so he took the time to shower and change out of his costume before going to hospital.

Hannah Waddingham, currently in Kiss Me, Kate at the Old Vic, says: "I've had plenty of accidents, with fire, a live mouse in my costume, but not anything from the audience."

Mobile phone interruptions, in her opinion, are "par for the course".

But actress Hattie Morahan, back next year as Nora in A Doll's House at the Young Vic, recalls an awkward opening night incident in Martin Crimp's The City at the Royal Court in 2008.

"In the first scene I had a very long speech and someone's phone went off very loudly and continued to ring. It's was in this tiny theatre and we almost stopped, but we just kept going. It went on for about five minutes!"

"Mobile phone interruptions don't happen as much as people think it does," says Julian Bird, chief executive of the Society of London Theatre. "When it hits the headlines it's when someone famous on stage stops the performance."

Start Quote

He snored for about 20 minutes. It got so bad the audience started to throw money at him”

End Quote

Perhaps the most famous example is when Richard Griffiths ordered a woman out of his West End play Heroes in 2005 after her mobile phone rang for a third time.

A year earlier, Griffiths had ordered a man out of the National Theatre when his phone went off for the sixth time during a performance of The History Boys.

"Phones go off all the time and if I'm speaking I tend to stop speaking and wait for it to finish and carry on," says Tamsin Greig, star of this year's West End transfer of Jumpy.

She admits her own phone went off once while she was in the audience at London's intimate 250-seat Donmar Warehouse

"I was sitting on the front row of the Donmar - literally the worst theatre space for it to go off," she cringes. "People make mistakes, I understand that, but we're all just stupid - just turn them off!"

The front row of the Donmar is the scene of another bizarre interruption, as the theatre's former artistic director Michael Grandage recalls.

"There was a horrific moment in one of our plays where a couple on the front row were far more interested in each other than they were in the work on the stage.

"The actors were having a terrible time because the audience wasn't looking at them, but at the two people making out.

"I didn't want to stop them enjoying themselves, so I asked them at the interval if they wanted to continue backstage. For some reason they got all respectful and decided they'd put it off until after the show!"


More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 174.

    The incessant tyranny of the mobile applies in other areas. I was meeting a rep to discuss moving our £70K pa freight account when his mobile rang, he answered it, so I left the room assuming our meeting to be over. After some minutes he emerged and I explained that as his call was more important than our meeting we would not be using his company, he looked stunned and clearly did not understand!

  • rate this

    Comment number 173.

    Re 151 A Hugh-Man WELL DO TELL!! One more example confirming the content of my previous posts. How do Do,Do,s like her get to university to begin with is beyond my state secondary school educations comprehension. Is this a result of teaching RIGHTS before responsibilities and the exchange of common SENSE for political correctness? Just another case of the ever increasing ignorance,dumbing down!

  • rate this

    Comment number 172.

    It's not just stage shows that mobile phones wreck. The cinema and the humble pub quiz have been completely destroyed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 171.

    How hard is it to turn the mobile to silent/off?
    I went to the cinema and there were less than 20 people in there, still a phone went off. I turn mine off. As for driving with the mobile nearby... no way turned off. Please THINK turn off phone and enjoy what you have paid for.

  • rate this

    Comment number 170.

    How is it any different from an interruption at home? If you're watching your favourite TV show, and the doorbell rings, do you shout angrily at your visitor for spoiling your family's enjoyment of the show?"

    No I don't. I reserve the right not to answer the door or the phone if it doesn't suit me to, and if I am watching or listening to something it doesn't suit me, so I don't.

  • rate this

    Comment number 169.

    The theatre is like the quiet carriage on a train - if someone's phone rings and they insist on taking the call - tell them to shut up. Personally I'd confiscate the phone and drop it in a jug of water.

  • rate this

    Comment number 168.

    You want phones going off? My family attended an audience with the Pope in the Vatican, and my sisters phone rang! It was her husband checking if she was having an audience with the Pope! There is no record of what the Holy Father said or thought on this matter.

  • rate this

    Comment number 167.

    As a stage manager for several productions even when phones are in silent mode they can cause horrible problems. Not just with sound equipment but also with the communications equipment theatres use (nicknamed cans).
    I can tell you, one too many performances having to sit through buzzing on cans due to mobiles can drive you insane!

  • rate this

    Comment number 166.

    154. ColadadelCid

    I suppose this is on a par with what the people of Syria are enduring. Theory of relativity again?
    In a manner of speaking Cid yes. The theory being that bland empty threads are relatively easy to manage compared to challenging topical stuff, especially with a government as controlling as this one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 165.

    I have just been to Christmas panto with my family the other evening. No mobile phone interruption whatsoever! Good job really because any perpetrator would be have totally humiliated. These guys take no prisoners. You can be humiliated just for being in the audience!! All in good fun of course..

    Merry Christmas everyone.

  • rate this

    Comment number 164.

    73 What you do in the privacy of your own home is different to what you do in public surely? If you don't wish to answer a knock on the door you don't have to; this isn't the same as strangers inflicting all manner of nonsense on others in a public place....the thing to ask is, when PAYING to watch a good play, film etc do you really want someone's ringtone etc, drowning out all else?

  • rate this

    Comment number 163.

    I never attend a performance if I have a cough; it would be rude to performer an audience alike.

    After watching the CBSO over 20 years and hundreds of performances I have come to the conclusion that playing an instrument prevents coughing. I have only ever heard a cough from the orchestra on three occasions, yet there is a cough from the audience every couple of minutes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 162.

    It wasn't at a theatre but during the oration at a recent funeral I attended with the chapel full to bursting when a woman's phone rang with a loud and jaunty jingle. She panicked and couldn't silence it for what seemed like minutes (really only 10 to 15 seconds). The lady was very distressed but everyone else seemed to find it a bit of light relief.

  • rate this

    Comment number 161.

    the Liverpool Playhouse had the marvellous idea of plying the Nokia mobile tune over the loudspeakers before the performance begins. Everybpdy jumps to their phone and makes sure theirs is off.

  • rate this

    Comment number 160.

    I was out for a night out last night & needed to visit the loo. Blocking the corridor to the toilets were about five people get a life sad people! The world did used to turn without a constant need to update/ break off from life to play with modern technology constantly; Happy Christmas!

  • rate this

    Comment number 159.

    158.A Hugh-Man
    The point is WE ARE NOT ALLOWED TO COMMENT even on the part of the website covering Health! This cannot be right as people are dying through lack of care andf no one wants to take up the cause! The Management Team in charge of the latest hospital should be charged with Corporate Manslaughter and this is why we try to raise the issue through other parts of the site.

  • rate this

    Comment number 158.

    OK, to all of those people going on about how this is not news and that there are more important topics, this is an article in the Entertainment and Arts section. This is a huge website and has room for soft or amusing articles such as this. If you don't think this is worth your time, don't give it your time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 157.

    I agree - just think what the taxes aggressively avoided by the likes of the Health Secretary,Jeremy Hunt ,could have been used for in the NHS or how the ones avoided by the former Offshoring Minister for Overseas Development could have been transferred from the tax havens to the starving.

  • rate this

    Comment number 156.

    Do we really have to put up with this drivel when there are more important issues we should be allowed comment on - for instance the failings in the NHS which has led to the death of yet another patient due to neglect by nursing staffs!

  • rate this

    Comment number 155.

    scubaian hit the nail on the head !,,, Unfortunately members of parliament have not grasped this fact,,,,They seem to think, messing with their mobiles, checking their twitter feeds and updating facebook status are more important than listening to questions in the house, and representing the people that voted for them


Page 1 of 9


More Entertainment & Arts stories



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.