Bachelorettes, Brawls and Body Cameras: A Night in the Theater in London

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LONDON – The West End has traditionally been seen as a delightful place where crowds sit in the midst of Victorian opulence, watching the great actors and musical stars of the world in silent reverie.

But after a few too many mobile phone arguments, wild bachelor parties and customers getting drunk from smuggled gin, some theater owners have decided that it's time to use a high-tech tool for crowd control: body cameras & # 39; s.

Last month, The Stage, a British theater newspaper, revealed that various London locations had purchased the devices to combat an increase in aggressive theater-goers with alcohol.

"Combining alcohol with the theater environment can make situations worse," said Phil Brown, head of risk and safety at the Society of London Theater. Some employees at the front of the house had refused to work on Friday and Saturday nights the bad behavior of the audience, he said.

The small camera & # 39; s are attached to belts or shirts and have a forward-facing screen shows the image that is recorded, he said. People calm down when they see themselves as unreasonable, he added.

But because body cameras are more often associated with police, theater officials have reluctance to draw attention to them.

However, during a tour of the theaters of London last month, employees refused to speak about whether any body cameras were used employees at the doors that check in bags on the way, the devices seemed to wear at "Tina: The Tina Turner Musical", "Mamma Mia!," and "Thriller Live".

"I can't say anything, sorry," said Michael La Borde of Pace Prestige Services, a company that provides security for at least one London theater, in a telephone interview. "That's beyond my salary," he added. (Mr. La Borde is the director of the company.)

Julian Bird, the director of the Society of London Theater, said in a telephone interview that there were & # 39; many misreportages & # 39; on the issue. Some British newspapers, picking up the story of The Stage, had portrayed the West End as a war zone, he said, "That's so ridiculously exaggerated."

Seven London theaters used the technology, he said, although he refused to name them. He said his understanding was that normal readers – such as those who sell ice cream at break – did not use body cameras in West End theaters. They were only used by security staff, or theater managers, who dealt with incidents that could not be resolved, he added.

In March, the Society of London Theater and UK Theater, another trading body, asked their members to report bad behavior. Forty-four incidents were registered, Mr. said. Bird, from more than 14 million trips to theaters. "It's small," he added.

Not everyone was so quick to reject reports from unmanageable customers. Adam Charteris, 28, an actor who works as an initiator between jobs, said in a telephone interview that members of the public had sworn to him and that he had seen fights. He blamed high ticket prices for the deteriorating behavior. "It puts so much pressure on a night out," he said, "and the second time something goes wrong, it becomes a major emotional problem."

Incidents can burst out of something as small as someone kicking your back, he said.

Behavior was worse around emotional events such as Christmas, Mr. Charteris added. A few years ago, on Valentine's Day, "two couples started rocking toward each other in the middle of Row J," he said. "It was just extraordinary."

Mr. Charteris said that the general feeling among noisy people was that the audience behaved the worst for so-called jukebox musicals. These shows, which combine well-known pop songs, usually end with the audience singing and dancing in a final that looks more like a rock concert than a play. But the more chic productions of London are also not immune to violent behavior.

In December 2017, a theater producer said he was beaten during a performance of "A Christmas Carol" at the Old Vic theater after he had asked a man's girlfriend to stop using her cell phone. In May 2018, the English National Opera banned open water bottles after "someone got drunk by smuggling gin and threw a loaf of bread," Stuart Murphy, the opera's chief executive, told The Daily Telegraph. (A spokeswoman for the opera declined to comment on this article.)

The following month, two men at the National Theater hit a performance of & # 39; Julie & # 39 ;, a play inspired by the work of August Strindberg. During a performance of Wagner & # 39; s "Siegfried" at the Royal Opera House in March, a large audience of opera fans ended up in court.

Kirsty Sedgman, theater teacher at the University of Bristol, who did that wrread a book about public behavior and said that fighting in the arena is as old as the theater itself: Plato complained about "catcalls and nonsensical screams" during performancesancient greece.

What is new, she said, is a cultural clash between older target groups, who want silence, and newer ones, who go to the theater for a fun evening.

Jukebox musicals are exactly the kind of shows that come in second place. On a recent Friday night, body cameras & # 39; s were visible on the guards of the Aldwych Theater for "Tina: The Tina Turner Musical". A pre-show announcement asked people to "abstain" of dancing or singing during the performance, and in the first half, sounds had to tell at least three audience members at orchestra level to put their phones away and stop filming.

But there was nothing bad enough to justify the blinding of a body camera. No one was sick in the aisle and no one girdled "Let's stay together" from their seats. At one point in the second half, a small flap broke out when a woman spilled a glass of rosé and lemonade. But every sound was only the woman, in a very British way, who repeatedly apologized for the upset.

After the performance, a bachelor party was outside the theater to take photos. Emma Simpson, 46, wore a veil and a "Bride to Be" sash, said her party, who wore novelty headwear for the night, had behaved well. "We only had two gin and tonics before the show," she said.

Body camera & # 39; s sounded like a brilliant idea, Mrs. Simpson added. "I'm all for people who laugh a little, but it's a thin line if you spoil it for others," she said. Her group had done her best not to hurt, she said, "We even took our rabbit ears off."

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