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Diana Mather is a British etiquette and presentation skills tutor based in Cheshire and London. She is the author of eleven books, including four children’s books.

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6 November 2023


When to arrive at the theatre

There is quite a strict set of rules when it comes to theatre etiquette, and, firstly, it is very bad manners to be late.

Sometimes, you won’t be allowed in until the interval or after a certain point in the first act, never mind having to apologise to everyone whose knees you have climbed over. So it is a good idea to arrive at least thirty minutes before the curtain goes up, especially if you want a drink beforehand or if you want to order something for the interval.

It is often a good idea to use the loo if you think you might want to go, as queues during intervals can be tedious – especially for the Ladies. Try not to leave your seat during the show.

Public transport is not always conducive to theatre performances, and a large party leaving to catch a train or a bus just before the end is disruptive to the audience and cast alike. If you know this might be the case, try and book seats towards the back of the theatre so as to limit any disruption. 

What should I wear to the theatre?

Until the 1960s, it was customary for people to dress up when going to the theatre, and dinner jackets were often worn, especially if sitting in a box. However, since then, the dress code has relaxed considerably, in fact for some people, there is no dress code at all!

But I think it shows respect for the hard-working cast, crew and theatre staff to dress as though you are going out for the evening rather than dressing as though you are about to go to the beach. A vest and shorts are not the thing, even if the weather is hot.

Dresses or smart trousers for women and smart trousers and shirts for men with a jumper or a jacket. For afternoon performances, the dress code can be more relaxed.

Can I eat in the theatre?

It is bad theatre etiquette to eat during a performance. The sound of crackling sweet wrappers, crunching of crisps or munching of popcorn definitely doesn’t enhance a performance. Eat something before you go, preferably, or have a snack in the bar before the start.

Many restaurants do a ‘theatre supper’ where you can have the first course before and another course after the performance has finished.

When should I clap at the theatre?

Only clap when everybody else does.

It can be very embarrassing to be the only person clapping during what is meant to be a dramatic pause. This is especially true of opera and ballet. 

Is it all right to talk during a show?

Like eating – talking during a show is the height of bad theatre etiquette. The audience is there to listen to the actors or singers, not you! Discuss the performance during the interval or after the show, but not during. When the house lights go down, your voices should switch off, too.

Are standing ovations good manners?

Personally, I think standing ovations should only happen when the performance has been exceptional. There was criticism on Broadway a few years ago when almost every performance was getting a standing ovation, whether it deserved it or not.

Don’t feel obliged to get to your feet, especially if you didn’t think the show was outstanding, but if you have really loved it, then be the first to show your appreciation by standing and clapping as hard as you can.

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