PRESS RELEASE: “This isn’t about being more Draconian, it’s about being more Innovative.”


“This isn’t about being more draconian, it’s about being more innovative.”

PRESS RELEASE: 12.00, Saturday 26th September 2015


  • pledges to run 100% positive campaign

A new initiative has been launched to help tackle mobile phone use in Theatres, following Mark Shenton’s call in his column earlier this month in The Stage that “we need a big public awareness campaign.”

The “Cumberphone Campaign” takes its name from Benedict Cumberbatch’s call to “tweet, blog, hashtag the sh*t out of this one”, after he pleaded with those flocking to see his Hamlet at the Barbican to desist from filming him during performances – something the actor described as “mortifying.”

The group is set to launch a “Theatreland Manifesto for Mobiles” in October, which it claims is full of innovative and bold new proposals, and hopes to win the backing of key industry bodies the Society of London Theatres, ATG, Delfont Mackintosh, Equity and others, during an open consultation process – during a period it has dubbed Off-tober and Nophone-vember.

The alliance of performers and theatre-lovers – which says it is “not an organisation, but rather an idea” – is also hoping to emulate the success of the recent online craze #15scondshakespeare, where famous names performed snippets of pop-song lyrics in overly-dramatic style.

It’s calling on those in shows in the West End and around the country to submit videos online, using the hashtag #cumberphone, with songs and scenes altered “to address the issue of mobiles one show-tune and soliloquy at a time.”

It’s also encouraging theatre-loving members of the public to do the same.

It will host an awards ceremony – “The Cumbies” – to celebrate the best of them, as well as to hand out an array of gongs, such as the Richard Griffiths Memorial Show-Stoppers Award, the Bianca Jagger Audience Vigilante Award and the Patti Lupone Annual Achievement Award – as well as Cumberboo Awards for poor behaviour across the industry.

Patti LuPone has hit the headlines in the US yet again, having already snatched an audience member’s phone on Broadway earlier this summer, after she spoke out against a recent series of adverts by US phone-giant AT&T that depict people watching sports on their phones during live theatre performances.

Urging theatre-goers to ditch AT&T as their provider, LuPone said: “Everything can be heard, including the tapping of digits on a phone or the click of a camera. And from the stage, do not be fooled. We can see you. It’s time we all in the theatre community put an end to the cell phone disruptions.”

David Fletcher, spokesman for the Cumberphone Campaign, said that the issue had now reached a critical mass:

“If we don’t act now, then when will we ever?” he said.

“Every so often there’s a flashpoint, when stars like Benedict or Patti speak out publicly, or Hugh Jackman, Daniel Craig or Kevin Spacey say something out on stage. But then we all just seem to hit the reset button and very little changes.”

“But we sincerely hope not this time.”

“We’re calling on all within Theatreland to help end that hopeless cycle now. We need to make real and lasting changes to how we approach this issue. And we should set ourselves the target of doing so before Apple brings out the iPhone 7.” [expected September 2016]

Saying it wanted to help bridge the growing divide between the tutters and the texters, the shusshers and the shruggers, the new Campaign praised the efforts of last summer’s Theatre Charter to promote better audience behaviour – from not talking, rustling sweet wrappers, using mobiles or arriving late for a show.

But, pledging that the Cumberphone group would run an entirely positive campaign, Fletcher stressed: “This isn’t just about etiquette, this is about finding and implementing creative and credible solutions.

“We’re not a band of Luddite Luvvies – quite the opposite. We love our phones. You’ll not find a more phone-addicted, tweet-happy bunch than actors out on tour.

“You can use your phones on the London Underground now, and there’s WiFi on airplanes – so it’s hardly surprising that theatre-goers are struggling to adapt to theatre’s status as one of the last few remaining refuges.

“The Manifesto will set out some bold proposals – some theatrical, some technological. And many others that might seem more challenging to implement but are certainly worth exploring. One size won’t fit all, but we certainly need a unified approach – that’s key.”

The group praised the emergence of new theatre apps like NT Backstage, ATG Ordertorium and TodayTix; it wants to see better WiFi in theatres, an expansion of e-ticketing and contactless payments – and is also calling for direct engagement with audience members via their mobiles.

“You’re probably more likely to turn your phone off if you’re texted some time before a show with a link to a video of its leading stars asking you to, rather than blared at by a faceless PA system moments before curtains-up,” continued Fletcher.

“There are also a number of simple psychological ‘nudges’ that could easily be deployed – such as putting a bold ‘no-phones’ logo on the front of tickets rather than dense small-print on the back.

“But this is obviously about far more than clearer signage or better announcements. Reminding people to turn their phones off is one thing, and we can certainly do that better, but we must change the whole way we go about it – because what we’re doing now certainly isn’t working very well, is it?

“This isn’t about being more draconian, it’s about being more innovative.

“We hope everyone in Theatre will come together to look at our ideas. And then, just as happens in a rehearsal room, pick them apart, add in new suggestions, mould it into something we all have a steak in, and emerge at the end of the process with a production we can take pride in and “open” in 2016 .”

For more information, see 

Twitter: @cumberphone



See transcript of our conversation with Time Out here.

See our Stealth Phone page for how to put your phone into “Theatre Mode”

Listen to Claire Skinner & Kenneth Cranham on BBC Radio 2 talking about how “phones go off all the time.”

Notes to Editors:

Benedict Cumberbatch (see video below) is by no means alone in speaking out.

West End stars have increasingly been taking to Twitter (and other more private forums) to call for greater efforts to be made by theatres and producers ahead of shows, rather than just by ushers during them.

They insist it’s not a question of copyright infringement, or substandard recordings of performances appearing online, though that remains of concern. It’s about the effect it has on the experience for the entire audience – whether that be performers themselves being distracted, or the distraction of fellow audience-members.

Carrie Hope Fletcher, Eponine in Les Miserables at the Queen’s Theatre, recently took to Twitter in a series of colourful messages to her almost 400,000 followers to complain that being filmed during a performance had completely put her off. “When it’s a concert it’s sort of become the norm. Theatres are a very different atmosphere. It’s hugely disrespectful to those on stage and those around you,” she said.

Eva Noblezada, Miss Saigon’s Kim at the Prince Edward Theatre wrote: “I’m sorry, but to sit idly in your seat looking at your bright screen is just… really?”

Jersey Boys Tommy De Vito actor John Boydon, expressed astonishment after a recent show at the Piccadilly Theatre, tweeting “I don’t think I’ve ever seen as many phones lit up in an auditorium as tonight, despite the FOH staff doing their best to stop it. Ridiculous, rude and disheartening.”

Avenue Q have set the bar pretty high with this perfect #Cumberphone video, released on 1st Off-tober 2015!

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