Are theatre audiences in France better behaved than the UK or US?

Columnist Peter Wyeth notices a genuine appreciation for performers and no reports of anti-social behaviour at shows

Audiences in France seem to stay longer to applaud the performers rather than grabbing their coats to leave

We are fortunate to live only 10 minutes’ walk from the Philharmonie de Paris concert halls, overlooking the raucous Périphérique ring road.

While we can stroll there, most audience members have to travel and it still shocks us how late people turn up – sometimes with seconds to spare before the music starts.

A nicer surprise is how late they stay to clap afterwards, showing a genuine appreciation of the performance.

It makes such a contrast to London audiences, who seem to grab their coat and hustle out of the door as soon as the conductor turns around to acknowledge the applause.

Of course, London is such a size that getting the last train home can be a real issue, but it does feel as though there is more to it than that.

Could the difference be the place culture has in the hearts of the French, compared to the British?

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Genuine gratitude to performers in France

We have enjoyed some really magical Philharmonie evenings where it has felt a privilege to be hearing the concert live.

A case in point was William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performing Monteverdi, where we were more than happy to keep going to the last clap ourselves.

However, in France, that habit extends beyond those special nights to a more general willingness to show gratitude to performers.

In Britain and the US, meanwhile, recent headlines point to a scourge of anti-social behaviour sweeping theatres, concert halls and gigs.

Intimidation, verbal abuse and physical assaults by audience members are among reasons almost half (45%) of UK theatre staff said they had considered leaving the industry, according to a 2023 survey.

I have yet to come across anything similar in France.

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I find it one of the most civilised aspects of life in France

We recently attended an opera that was staged in a big barn converted by an eminent pianist, near La Châtre in Indre.

It was played without backdrops on a simple platform outside the barn doors, in high summer, with chairs spread across the lawn.

The acoustics were not the most sophisticated, naturally, and the performers were not big names, but the warmth of the audience response to a sincere rendering was heart-warming.

In the French countryside, there are similar concerts virtually every night in summer. The feeling is that audiences are not just grateful that musicians have made the trek from the big cities, but both respect and enjoy the concerts.

In itself, I find that one of the most civilised aspects of life in France.

Badly behaved audiences is nothing new

Britain has its Glyndebourne and others springing up all the time, but would it be wrong to sense the occasion is more social than musical, and too romantically foreign to believe that in France it is the opposite?

In her 2023 book On Being Unreasonable, about the erosion of manners, order and respect, cultural studies expert Dr Kirsty Sedgmen says that 2,000 years ago, Plato was already complaining that audiences needed to be controlled with a stick.

In France, at least, it seems he can lay that to rest.

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