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Helen Mirren tackles noise disruption in theatre in outburst at street drummers

I don’t often read newspapers or watch the news on TV, but I do like to keep myself up to date with what is going on in the world and do so each day through the news apps on my mobile. In the last week or so, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find an abundance of theatre-related news items popping up on there, with the announcement of the early closure of Spice Girls musical Viva Forever! and the forthcoming Broadway transfer of all-new Rocky The Musical from its Germany run both receiving coverage. The recent 2013 Laurence Olivier Awards were also prominently featured, in what is yet another boost for the annual UK theatre award ceremony after its return to TV for the first time in 10 years; in the form of a highlights show anyway. The world of theatre is often overlooked in favour of more commercially popular media forms such as television, so it’s always a pleasing occurrence to see it receive a wider recognition – for whatever reason.

Dame Helen Mirren has certainly been doing her part to get people talking about theatre in the past week. She was heavily mentioned in news items about the Olivier Awards, having been named Best Actress on the night for her role as Queen Elizabeth II in The Audience, but made headlines more recently after giving a little less ‘regal’ performance last Saturday.

Mirren is currently playing HRH the Queen in the acclaimed West End production of Peter Morgan’s play The Audience, which offers the audience an ‘imagined insight into the Queen’s weekly meetings with her various prime ministers over the past sixty years of her reign. On Saturday, an altogether different side of the Queen was seen when Mirren stormed offside after the end of Act I to rage at a group of drummers on the street outside the Gielgud Theatre for interrupting the performance. The drummers, who were part of a parade to promote the upcoming gay and transgender music event As One In The Park festival, were confronted by the 67-year-old award-winning actress in full stage costume as the Queen, who shouted a stream of expletives at them. Co-star Rufus Wainwright, who plays Prime Minister David Cameron, followed her out and later described Mirren’s rant as “breathtaking” on Twitter.

Mirren has been lauded by the majority of people for her hands-on approach of dealing with noise disruption which, as many other stage performers have previously stated, can be one of the most irritating and difficult hurdles for an actor during a live performance. As she herself explained: “I was very upset, I was very cross. I had just spent five, 10 minutes on stage trying to allow the audience to hear what I was saying which was sort of impossible. I was steaming. I literally walked straight off stage, straight up the stairs, straight out of the stage door and they were right here…so loud.” She then went on to compare her blue-tinged outburst as more Duke of Edinburgh than the Queen’, admitting that: “Her Majesty would never say anything like that.”

There are no hard feelings on either side though. Mirren has been invited to the As One In The Park festival in Victoria Park by the event organisers and the drummers have also reportedly been offered free tickets to a performance of The Audience. Members of the band also met her as she went into the theatre Monday night to apologise for interrupting the play, while Mirren displayed her sense of humour by stepping out on Sunday in a white t-shirt which promoted the LGBT festival with the good-natured message: ‘Yes please! Just not outside a theatre!’ written across the back. She also laughed about the irony of the incident as she professed a love of drumming, adding: “In another situation I would have been out here enjoying it with all the punters. Unfortunately I was having to do a play at the same time.”

While the majority opinion of her actions on Saturday sees them in a positive and humorous view, not everyone agreed, with some suggesting she was simply being egotistical and others criticising the theatre management for not dealing with the issue themselves. Personally, I want to applaud Mirren for what she did. She is well known for her no-nonsense attitude and blunt manner of speaking, and this is one story which will be remembered and laughed about in theatre circles for years to come. More importantly though, she has brought the subject of noise disruption during stage performances to the forefront. Many theatre-goers are now jokingly suggesting she is sent into theatre auditoriums to put to rights the audiences who disrupt performances with their antics – I know I’m not alone in having experienced the irritation of noisy audience members or outside interruptions. In my view, we could do with more ‘Mirrens’ around to allow theatregoers to enjoy the full – uninterrupted – theatre experience! What do you think though?

By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)

Credit:  Photo by Frank Doran / Rex Features

Tuesday 7th May 2013

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