Theatre staff call for more protection in face of abusive audiences

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But staff say more needs to be done to ensure their safety at work.

One usher for Wicked said: “Theatres need to ensure that when people misbehave they are asked to leave. It’s all well and good giving an usher a body camera, but the only way to ensure safety is to make sure that any person being aggressive to any member of the public or staff is immediately removed from the venue.”

Revealing some of her worst experiences for a survey carried out by The Stage magazine, the usher said: “A show got cancelled one day due to a fault with the automation on the set. As you can imagine, we had angry patrons everywhere, but one particular patron decided to tell a colleague of mine: ‘I hope you die of a brain tumour.’”

Bectu, the trade union which represents entertainment staff, said more needs to be done to protect ushers and called for a zero tolerance approach to abuse of staff.

Philippa Childs, the head of Bectu, told The Telegraph: “These stories of ill-treatment of staff by customers in theatres are really shocking. It’s also worrying that there doesn’t seem to be much consistency in how management deal with these issues when they arise.

“Employees have a right to carry out their duties safely and free from abuse – that includes from customers. We will be pushing theatre managers across the West End to adopt clear processes for dealing with abuse, and for protecting their employees in the course of their work. Buying an expensive ticket does not give people the right to treat staff like dirt.

“Where a customer is abusive that should immediately mark the end of the assumption that ‘the customer is always right’.”

The situation has become so bad that some theatres, including the Lyceum in Covent Garden, home to The Lion King musical, have employed security staff to control audiences queuing for entry.

An usher said: “You have to stand outside the Lyceum and filter people in. It’s one at a time, and quite often it tends to be a boyfriend getting protective about a girlfriend and saying: ‘No, she’s coming in with me.’ And that’s when they get aggressive, and push you out the way, or in my case, pushed up against a wall.

“I have had members of staff who have had homophobic slurs thrown at them.”

One former usher said he was spat at by an audience member at the Royal Albert Hall for asking them not to hang their feet over the edge of the circle.

Evan Garrett, a dance tutor who worked front of house at various venues, said: “Any issues of aggression I encountered came from white, middle-class patrons both male and female. For me it stems from a feeling of entitlement and superiority.”

Delfont Mackintosh Theatres, which owns the Gielgud, says it trains all front of house staff in security, conflict resolution and how to deal with aggressive behaviour.

The Royal Albert Hall said that while negative incidents involve only a tiny percentage of the 1.8 million people who visit each year, it took them “very seriously”. 

Anthony Winter-Brown, Director of Visitor Experience at the RAH, said: “We have a structure and escalation process in place to deal with any incidents at an event, with highly-trained duty managers and security personnel who can deter and effectively deal with any inappropriate behaviour.” 

The Ambassador Theatre Group, which operates the Lyceum and the Apollo Victoria, did not respond to requests for comment.

Additional reporting by Imogen Horton



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