Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Theatre Etiquette and PDA's

Last Saturday night, my boyfriend and I went to the theatre. As is sometimes our way, I had my arm around his shoulder. Not an out and out sexual move.... More an accommodation of his arm frequently occupying the arm rest, and my chest being of a size that doesn't really afford a comfortable version of the atypical audience stance: arms folded.

About 15mins in, a gentleman sitting not directly behind us, but to my boyfriend's left, tapped my hand that was resting on the aforementioned shoulder. Much like he would swat a fly. I, in a meeker moment it must be said, moved my arm immediately, muttering to my boyfriend why I'd had to move, and then sat feeling slightly embarrassed and annoyed.

Embarrassed that my occasional shoulder stroking had provoked such a response. Annoyed that something so minor had prompted the man to act. How many times have I sat in silence as a fellow theatregoer chomps through a sandwich, unwraps sweets, turns off their beeping phone, moves their head incessantly thus blocking my view, or, heaven forbid, talks throughout. Seriously. We have no idea how to behave in the theatre anymore, a generation of movie goers, used to tweeting and watching. Well, we're not tweeting in the theatre yet, but give it time. Though to be fair, I also think we're still a tad reverential when it comes to watching theatre - staying to watch something that we'd have turned off if it was on the telly.

But, was my shoulder stroking just as bad as the other theatregoer crimes? I'm not sure. Put it this way, if someone had been doing that in front of me, I wouldn't have said a word. Amusingly, and rather hotly, it must be said, my boyfriend challenged him at the Interval. The gentleman in question looked rather shocked, which was nice to see. The boyfriend refrained from making an out and out threat, but did suggest he shouldn't be touching women in public, which was rather amusing.
We are rather against PDA's in this country, British as we are. And if I'm honest with myself, the image of me snogging my boyfriend for about 2hrs on date 2 in a busy bar, make me slightly cringe, enjoyable as it was at the time. Though in my twenties, there was nothing I liked more than some public tongue action. Quite why I liked the exhibitionism of that is for another blog :-) but it raises the more pertinent question: Why do we generally frown upon PDA's - is it that we're not 12 vodka shots down? Do we just grow up? Or is there something more inherently reserved and British about it all?

And it's not just PDA's in a romantic sense. I'm not a mother, but I have many friends who are, and I've seen it all. From the friend who waps out her boobs whenever the child is hungry, with no care in the world, to most recently, a friend who put on a black apron type garment to breast feed in public. Admittedly we were having lunch with her parents, so maybe revealing a nipple to her Father wasn't an option. And maybe she feels more comfortable wearing it. To be honest, if you've pushed a baby out, I think you deserved to do whatever you want. But I did find myself joking that the child might be traumatised into only eating in the dark in later life, preferring camping etc etc.

Maybe it's nice to be more restrained. It's all about what's hidden underneath, what is constrained. All about the reveal. But I wonder if there's something idealistic about that. Life is surely about the nitty gritty; the pungent, messy, happy, sad, stretch marked, wrinkled, insecure, strong, fleshiness of it all. Maybe it's good to get the full reveal, curtain back, to know what you're dealing with, and still choose to embrace it. And I wonder if for my generation, that desire to be a little more forthright, a little more public, is a counter to our parents' generation of repression. Or certainly mine!


  1. The only thing I would say about this is, if I were sat behind someone in the theatre and they were doing any kind of repetitive movement (eg stroking), I would find it hugely visually distracting. The guy is a tosser for tapping you on the arm, but I can see me getting annoyed by this (and sitting...and stewing...and not actually saying anything). And for me it wouldn't be about the PDA, it would just be that a visual tic would be distracting me from what was going on onstage. Ahem, not that I EVER go to the theatre, as well you know.

    On the wider subject of PDAs, like everything, and perhaps this is VERY British, I think there is a time and a place. In a lively, busy pub, sure! On the street, fine! In a club, partly why you went there! But in the theatre, the cinema, an art gallery, places like that I’m really not so sure. They are places where some other people have gone to be thoughtful, or engaged, or concentrating, or studying, and a PDA is almost always distracting, unless you are Sheldon Cooper. I think the thing about boundaries is that the fewer you have of them the more you should respect those of other peoples'.

    And one more (pedantic) point – feeding your baby isn’t a PDA – it’s, y’know, feeding your baby. Not that breastfeeding isn’t a wonderful bonding experience for some mums, but its primary role is nutrition – not quite the same as sucking someone’s face :)

  2. Articulate and thought provoking as ever Ms Hill. I agree - probably would be distracting and I would sit and not say anything, or rather tut continually ;-)

    And noted re the PDA and breastfeeding. I don't really think of it as a PDA; I think I was just bracketing them together under the Britishness helm.

    Time you started blogging again too....? x