Ian Hart tackles the audience

The reports of Ian Hart leaping off the stage during the curtain-calls of Speaking in Tongues to berate a customer in the stalls are truly bizarre and follow Hart’s confession that he doesn’t really like live inter-action with an audience.

We can take it as read, then, that he won’t be appearing in pantomime this year. Oh no, he won’t.
 
Was Hart’s outburst a cry for help? Perhaps he was looking for a doctor in the house.

He should have tried Hampstead Theatre. When Stephen Rea really was taken ill during a performance of a Mike Leigh play at Hampstead, Jim Broadbent asked if there was a doctor in the house, and twenty-eight men stood up.  
 
On the other hand, when Ralph Richardson asked if there was doctor in the house, and a man stood up, he simply said “Ah, good evening, doctor,” and carried on with the play.

Benedict Nightingale recounts an instance of Alec Guinness brusquely separating a lady in the front row from her pair of giant binoculars, only to be told by an usher in the interval: “The blind woman in the front row apologies if she’s upset you.”

So actors had better be careful if they are going to start picking on the audience.

But answering back to mobile phone offenders is totally understandable. You could see Henry Goodman steeling himself not to react when a bleeper sounded at the Arcola on Monday night, ignoring the censorious examples of Richard Griffiths and Kevin Spacey.

How do you react when a phone goes off near you in the theatre? My reaction is always one of embarrassment and then sympathy for the offender, because we’ve all done it.

But I’m getting a bit tired of people who keep their silencers on and consult their flashing screens as if that wouldn’t disturb anyone around them.

Hart seems to have taken against the fellow in the front for no reason at all, although, according to The Times report, he did get the punter to agree that he had been talking through the performance.

Whatever the truth of the outburst, the fact remains that Hart is a brilliant actor whom we see too little of on the stage. I hope this experience doesn’t put him off returning very soon.

Nicol Williamson used to walk off the stage in Hamlet when he’d had enough. And the Irish actor Alan Devlin departed the stage mid-performance with the memorable ejaculation, “F–k this for a game of soldiers, I’m off to the pub.”

Such behaviour is usually the prerogatiove of the customer, and I suspect the smartly dressed couple next to me in the Olivier stalls last night who left in the interval of Nation were more bored than disgusted.

They looked suspiciously like sponsors to me, and the lady’s face — as Daphne and Mau sucked milk from the teats of a giant warthog and spat the creamy liquid into a bowl — resembled that of an acidulous lemon-sucker.

I had not seen such an expression in the Olivier since Her Majesty was confronted with Harrison Birtwistle’s arrangement of the National Anthem on the very first opening night of the theatre.

And that was only the overture. There followed one of the unfunniest productions of a Goldoni play (by Bill Bryden, of all people) ever recorded in the annals of stage history.

Nation was a disappointment, but it wasn’t that bad. Perhaps the actors should have tried leaping off the stage and shouting at us.  

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