Comedian and writer Adam Kay described the moment he came face-to-face with a "hammered" theater-goer in his dressing room at Glasgow's King's Theatre.

Returning to the room after a performance of his one-man show 'This is Going to Hurt' he discovered the woman had ransacked his generous rider, spent a penny in his toilet and was about to return to her seat with a freshly-poured glass of his wine.

The former doctor saw the funny side of it but the incident, two years ago, is not isolated with unions warning that a rise in alcohol-fuelled disorder is leading to staff leaving their jobs and taking the joy out of live entertainment.

The Herald: Adam Kay saw the funny side but there is evidence theatre staff are leaving jobs because of a rise in drunken behaviour Adam Kay saw the funny side but there is evidence theatre staff are leaving jobs because of a rise in drunken behaviour (Image: Charlie Clift/PA)

There is concern that venues still recovering from pandemic losses and negotiating the current economic downturn may be flouting licensing restrictions to boost takings with alcohol sales. More cinemas now allow patrons to take drinks into the auditorium.

The Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA) said theatres  "desperate to attract as many customers as possible and drive increased income" may need to review policies and procedures.

Last year saw a spike in incidents which led to an online spat between theatre bosses.

Colin Marr, Director of Edinburgh Playhouse, said staff had been verbally and physically assaulted "while trying to do their job" with one punched and another spat on.

Glasgow's Pavillion responded to his online comments saying some theatres could be breaching licensing laws by not checking the condition of patrons and accused ATG of "putting profits ahead of the customer's experience".

A survey by the Broadcasting, Entertainment, Communications and Theatre Union (Bectu) found that over 70% of theatre workers felt audience behaviour had worsened since the pandemic.

 "Alcohol is how we make the money so it’s understandably pushed but at what consequence," said one worker. Another said customers would often purchase a bottle of wine instead of two glasses "as it makes more sense cost-wise."

Philippa Childs, head of Bectu says theatre-goers "forgot how to behave" after the restrictions of the pandemic but said there is no evidence that incidents have abated three years on.

"People just seemed to lose their minds," she said.

"We are talking about front-of-house people who are the lowest paid in theatres, so to have to put up with these behaviours and to have to try to diplomatically handle those situations can be really difficult.

The Herald: 'People just seemed to lose their minds' 'People just seemed to lose their minds' (Image: Bectu)

"We have had some really unpleasant examples," she added.

"Not necessarily in Scotland but somebody was threatened when they were refused another drink at the bar they basically said 'If my wife wasn't here, I would punch you in the face'.'

"[We have heard] of people being told they would be followed home. People urinating in places outside the toilet.

"One of the things we have raised is that, because obviously theatres struggled so much through the pandemic and are still recovering there is more focus on selling things around the show.


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"Once upon a time you couldn't take proper glasses into the show, you had to have the plastic things but you are seeing a lot more of that now with people bringing in a bottle and glasses.

"None of us wants to be a prude about having a drink but the consequences of that can be quite extreme for staff and for people who bought a ticket who don't actually want to listen to someone else singing over the music."

She said she been lucky enough to travel to New York last year and took in a Broadway show which she described as "quite raucous" but said the audience was very well behaved.

"I think it is particularly prevalent in the UK and I think it does relate to our relationship with drink," she said.

She says the big companies could be doing more including allowing bar staff to make judgement calls and "not just going for maximum income."

ATG, which operates the King's Theatre in Glasgow, declined to comment, when approached by The Herald and asked what it is doing to mitigate the problem.

A spokeswoman for Glasgow's Tron Theatre said incidents of disruptive behaviour were 'relatively rare' due to the type of work it programmes and size of audiences.

She added: "Bar and catering operations are set up on a not-for-profit basis with no income targets set for alcohol sales (Tron Theatre is a registered charity) and we don’t offer drinks packages or actively up-sell alcohol in our theatre marketing. 

"Additionally we closely monitor all bar pre-orders – checking alcohol quantities being ordered in relation to the number of tickets in the booking – and actively flag/prevent excessive purchasing."

Colin Wilkinson, managing director of the SLTA (Scottish Licensed Trade Association, said a zero-tolerance approach to patrons already intoxicated before they walk through the front door "is a must".

The Herald: Colin Wilkinson of the Scottish Licensed Trade Assocation says theatre may have to review alcohol policiesColin Wilkinson of the Scottish Licensed Trade Assocation says theatre may have to review alcohol policies (Image: SLTA)

He said: "With the effects of the pandemic and the current economic climate, theatres are, like all other entertainment venues, desperate to attract as many customers as possible and drive increased income, but with the disruptive outcomes experienced in many of these venues, operators may well need to review/update/monitor their policies and procedures on alcohol sales within the venues themselves.

“There is also obviously the issue of ‘pre-loading’ and individuals under the influence of alcohol and other substances arriving at a venue, so a zero-tolerance approach to patrons already intoxicated gaining entry is a must.

"It is far better to deal with a potential problem in the foyer than the confines of an auditorium.”