Sunday 11 December 2016

Stage: Top secrets: how to have a good time at the play

Published 20/12/2015 | 02:30

Time to mingle: Michael Colgan, artistic director at the Gate Theatre
Time to mingle: Michael Colgan, artistic director at the Gate Theatre

The other night I had a bad time. (No point mentioning the play - the run has already died.) In the penumbra of the theatre, I surreptitiously checked my phone, and cursed my lot for having chosen this life. I remembered that for every two shows that prickle the hairs on my arms, another leaves me cold. What is supposed to be a break from work becomes hard work. Quite expensive hard work! You feel a fool. In case you have ­experienced this too, I asked our top artistic directors to tell us their secret to enjoying a night at the theatre.

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Garry Hynes, Druid: "Don't go to something because you feel you should, go because you want to go. If you don't like it, leave. Nothing worse than sitting in the theatre and being bored. Also, I like to make it an event, have dinner after. It's a social occasion and I like that. Remember, it's all about you, it's not about anything else."

Gavin Quinn, Pan Pan: "The problem sometimes is that people rush [to the theatre]. They go straight after work, tired. Theatre does require some attention and concentration. In Germany, people tend to read the play before they go. Some people Wikipedia it.

"Art is not easy. It's not supposed to be easy. Art is difficult. You're supposed to think about things, learn about things, develop an appreciation over time. The more you put into it, the more you'll get out of it."

Lynne Parker, Rough Magic: "Always have at least one alcoholic drink. It helps to guide you to the twilight zone between Actual Life and Theatre, which is vital in order to avoid missing the essential information contained in the first scene because you're obsessing about the thousand natural shocks that Actual Life bestows. Going alone is a great idea. You don't have to stress about your companion's behaviour or response. Going to a matinee is very smart, because you get home in time for Strictly and the double episode of The Bridge."

Niall Henry, Blue Raincoat: "Often the theatre is shite. Unlike the cinema or a box set, you can't turn it off and walk out.

"You're caught in there. If it's bad, it can turn into a water-boarding experience. I follow actors and directors. If I know Mikel Murfi or Olwen Fouere's in a play, I follow them, they'll have done a lot of filtering deciding who to work with.

"Go to small little tiny plays that have no money, no resources, but loads of energy and ideas, as opposed to going to big huge productions that are often about power and money. In the former you're allowed to cross your legs and cough, the latter can be more of a middle-class experience."

Anne Clarke, Landmark Productions: "I always want to know in advance how long the show is, and whether there's an interval. Matinees are great, and are usually slightly cheaper than evening performances. Also, if I have a choice, in a bigger theatre I would always sit at the front of the dress circle rather than in the stalls. You're still close to the action, and you have a much better picture of the entire stage."

Michael Colgan, The Gate: "Going to the cinema is fun, but so is going to the theatre. What's really cool is to go to an opening night. If you don't want to watch the play you can watch the crowd. Unlike the cinema, the theatre gives you an opportunity - almost an obligation - to go and mingle at the bar. So you're more likely to meet people at a play. Besides, a good production of a good play will stay with you for much longer."

Grace Dyas, THEATREclub: "It's hard for people to enjoy theatre the way it's set up. It's very snobby, overall. The constructions are so not in keeping with how we live our lives now. Pick the thing you're interested in. Don't go and see something just because it's theatre - you could end up in a really horrible situation then. Ask yourself, do I care about Shaw? Am I interested in seeing people dressed up in period costumes? Maybe you are. In which case, go to that. If you're not, don't go to it. And you don't have to dress up, you don't have to wear a top hat and a monocle."

Jim Culleton, Fishamble: "Going to the theatre is a bit like going to the cinema, where you also sit in the dark with lots of strangers to watch the actors, but your reaction to their performance is never going to influence them, as it does in live theatre. It is a bit like watching television, where you also share the characters' stories and dilemmas and hopes, but you are very unlikely to give your TV a standing ovation."

Julie Kelleher, The Everyman, Cork: "Ask yourself, what kind of story do you really enjoy? A romance? A war tale? Historical drama? Cutting edge comedy or good old-fashioned farce? Try to make your decision based on that. A fantastically democratic (and seasonal) place to start is panto, which gives healthy doses of comedy, romance and adventure, and you're allowed to shout at the stage, which is the best craic of all."

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