When I was younger, my biggest theatre experience was going to see The Nutcracker at the Royal Opera House each Christmas. In attempt to fit in with the soft, crimson velvet, the gold brocade, the shimmering crystallised ballerinas, I would excitedly shimmy into my most special dress. Usually pink or purple, usually sparkly, chosen for maximum twirling potential. As you get older, though, tip-toed swishing into a theatre in a swirl of colour and sequins becomes slightly less acceptable (at least on a Monday night at a fringe theatre anyway… I reckon Kinky Boots would love it).
Having been lucky enough to see a lot of theatre, this idea of specially choosing what to wear has become rather redundant; a bit of a waste of time. We’re not quite at pyjama-wearing level yet, but after a long or difficult day jeans and jumper seems perfectly fine. Yet last year, when I invited many of my friends to the theatre who’d rarely been before “What shall I wear?” was often the first question they’d ask.
Part of this is to do with theatre’s image problem. Spanning back from the gentleman’s boxes and the wealthy audience sitting on the stage of the early modern stages all the way to the red carpets of press nights today, there’s a sense that you go to the theatre to see and be seen. This despite the fact that there seem to be fewer and fewer intervals in which to parade your finery for the masses; and if there are lots of intervals, it’s so much of a marathon that only comfy clothing will do (looking at you Angels in America). And added to this the fact that in most theatres, we’re sitting in the pitch black for the most part anyway.
It is only to be expected that no theatres have a set dress code anymore for everyday performances. A set of rules about what to wear necessarily excludes certain groups of people, and theatre should be open to all. Plus, the production will not fail because of your pair of grubby trainers. Actors may be a fragile group of people, but I assure you, their training is sufficient that they can carry on, whatever fashion faux par glares out at them from the front row. So rest easy (unless your clothes actually smell – but that faux par is not limited to the theatre).
P.S. When thinking about clothes can be helpful:
For some reason much of the time attendees feel the need to imitate the style of the performance in their outfits. The audience for Glengarry Glen Ross at the Playhouse Theatre last year had so many suited men I wondered whether I’d walked into some sort of regional conference by mistake – and sure enough, the play itself was about as interesting. Like draws like, at least where costumes are concerned. If you want to know what a show is like, checking out the clothes of the audience isn’t a bad idea.