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A West End theatre has banned audiences from eating during performances

Andrzej Lukowski

A national treasure and (by all accounts) charming lady – not to mention one of Britain's greatest living actors – Imelda Staunton is known for having one particular bugbear: she hates audiences eating during her shows. She expounded on this at length during a Radio Times interview last November (in which she revealed she wouldn't even munch on snacks in front of the telly) and as she returns to the West End in this month's hotly-anticipated revival of Edward Albee's 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?', her feelings on noisy noshers seem to have been transformed into theatre policy.  

Ticketholders have been emailed by Ambassador Theatre Group with a request that 'Out of consideration for the actors and fellow audience members, we ask that no food be consumed during the performance' when they attend the show at the Harold Pinter Theatre. Though there is in fact no suggestion Staunton requested the ban, it seems overwhelming likely that either a) she did or b) somebody else did in consideration of her feelings.

The belief that there has been a decline in theatre audience behaviour in recent years is an oft-voiced one, and some will take heart at ATC's stance, though it remains to be seen how stringently it can be enforced (not least because the theatre still sells snacks itself).

There are also those who worry that the appearance of being stuffy and rulebound is not good for getting new audiences into theatre.

Whatever the case, it'll be interesting to see if it catches on elsewhere in the West End or will be imposed for Staunton's next stage project – a revival of 'Follies' at the National Theatre later this year.

'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?' is at the Harold Pinter Theatre until May 27.

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