I wrote a blog a few months ago about the irritating traits of fellow audience members when going to the theatre. There are certainly plenty of them, with their rustling bags of sweets, constant talking, playing with mobiles, early exits and so on and so forth. The list goes on and on. Most of what annoys us with these audience members is their lack of respect for, not only us, but the performers onstage. Whatever their ‘modus operandi’ may be, they are either a distraction to their fellow theatre-goers or the performers and that is what we take offense at. It’s not always rude or disrespectful behaviour that can be distracting however; sometimes it can be the manner in which they express their pleasure of the theatrical experience. Of course, it is always nice to know that an audience have enjoyed the show – that is the whole point after all – but a recent anecdote reminded me of a particular audience member I myself have encountered (and been irritated by).
A friend of mine told me about a performance of Les Miserables a few weeks back that was also attended by The Clapping Man. Some of you may have encountered him yourselves and know exactly who I’m talking about, but for those who haven’t, let me clarify. I first became aware of Clapping Man at a performance of Love Never Dies; we were both in the front row of the stalls, just a few seats down from one another. The opening number for Love Never Dies was (at that point) the glorious ‘’Til I Hear You Sing’, performed by the equally glorious Ramin Karimloo. It’s a belter of a song that has quickly become a firm favourite of both theatre fans and musical theatre performers alike, so when Clapping Man started enthusiastically applauding away on Ramin’s final note, before he had even finished singing, I put it down to his love for that particular song and thought nothing of it; till he did it again. Clapping Man proceeded to do exactly the same thing for every musical number throughout the entire show. Every time, on cue, there he would go, clapping away while whoever’s number it was was still singing. ‘So what?’ I hear some of you saying. It may seem an insignificant thing, but if you have experienced it for yourself then you will understand just how irritating it is. The music is such a big part of a musical and it’s easy to find yourself caught up in a song, especially with a show like Love Never Dies which has such a big, powerful score. So when someone does something distracting like that, it takes the focus away from the stage and prematurely breaks the connection between the audience and the music. Ever had someone laugh during an emotional scene in a film? It’s exactly the same type of situation.
I found out later that Clapping Man was in the Love Never Dies audience on an almost nightly basis and did this same thing every time. It seems he was becoming well-known as I heard from a number of people about him and his ‘habit’. I assumed it was a Love Never Dies ‘thing’ and, since the show’s closure, I haven’t heard even a murmur of him - till now. Yes, Clapping Man had resurfaced at Les Miserables and was back to his old tricks. At Love Never Dies, I had thought about whether the actors themselves had also been put off by him. Some may have been so wrapped up in their character that it didn’t even register, but surely some must have been aware of it? I know some of the Les Misers were, especially one in particular who told him in no uncertain terms at the curtain call to shut up, basically.
I have no doubt that Clapping Man is just an enthusiastic fan who can’t quite seem to control his excitement. He’s not being disrespectful and he’s not setting out to be deliberately irritating but his eager antics are just that. He serves as a perfect example of just how important it is to be aware of theatre etiquette when seeing a show. The likes of noisy eating and inopportune conversations are obvious no-no’s, but the less obvious ones can be equally as disruptive to the theatre experience. Something to think about perhaps.
By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)
Monday 9th April 2012