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‘We can’t hear you!’ Theatregoer’s heckle during actress’s ‘inaudible’ monologue sparks outcry among audience who ‘almost come to blows’ as they argue over performance


A heckler who yelled ‘we can’t hear you’ at a renowned actress as she delivered an ‘inaudible’ dramatic monologue has sparked outrage, with critics and fans ‘almost coming to blows’ as they argued over the performance.

Isabelle Huppert, one of France‘s biggest stars of stage and screen, had the only speaking part in the modern adaptation of 17th-century tragedy Bérénice.

She pressed on with her performance while outraged audience members hushed those who expressed discontent at the avant-garde interpretation of the play.

Theatregoers left the Paris Théâtre de la Ville split over the show, and over whether the audience reaction had been acceptable, with both applause and boos at the end of the performance.

Some shouted at each other as they walked out of the March 19 show, one critic reported, and others laughed during what were meant to be the most tragic scenes.

Isabelle Huppert, one of France 's biggest stars of stage and screen, had the only speaking part in the modern adaptation of 17th-century tragedy Bérénice. Pictured: Huppert at the Oscars in 2017

Isabelle Huppert, one of France ‘s biggest stars of stage and screen, had the only speaking part in the modern adaptation of 17th-century tragedy Bérénice. Pictured: Huppert at the Oscars in 2017

Theatregoers left the Paris Théâtre de la Ville (pictured) split over the show, and over whether the audience reaction had been acceptable, with both applause and boos at the end of the performance

Theatregoers left the Paris Théâtre de la Ville (pictured) split over the show, and over whether the audience reaction had been acceptable, with both applause and boos at the end of the performance

The original play, written by Jean Racine, is about a love triangle between Titus, who is to become Rome’s new emperor, his friend Antiochus, King of Commagene, and Bérénice, Queen of Judea.

Its adaption by Italian director Romeo Castellucci was highly-anticipated, but has received mixed reviews.

The sole voice in the adaptation is Huppert’s Bérénice, and her rambling monologues as a ‘central terrestrial force’ are modified by a computer, The Times reports.

During one such speech, an audience member protested that they were struggling to hear Huppert, only to be told to ‘shut up’ by others.

Huppert, who has been nominated for a record number of César Awards in France, was keen to downplay the incident, but was clearly unimpressed with the critique.

‘The works of Romeo Castellucci have always caused the strongest possible reactions,’ the Oscar-nominated actress said. 

‘It is not a surprise. But we have gone up a level with an actress being addressed directly during a performance.’ 

Now a national debate has been sparked over what kind of behaviour should be expected from audiences in France. 

The original play, written by Jean Racine, is about a love triangle between Titus, who is to become Rome's new emperor, his friend Antiochus, King of Commagene, and Bérénice, Queen of Judea. Pictured: An adaptation at the Royal Opera House in 2019

The original play, written by Jean Racine, is about a love triangle between Titus, who is to become Rome’s new emperor, his friend Antiochus, King of Commagene, and Bérénice, Queen of Judea. Pictured: An adaptation at the Royal Opera House in 2019

Some critics have argued that audiences should appreciate performances in respectful silence, no matter how challenging. 

Others have defended the heckler, saying theatres should return to noisier culture, as seen in the 19th century, in which actors receive instant feedback from their audiences.

Didier Péron, culture editor at the newspaper Libération, defended the heckler, asking: ‘How can you continue to talk of live performances if […] a bit of untimely passion, a difference of opinion, of taste, of support or of repugnance, cannot explode without us seeing […] intolerable violence?’ 

Florence Naugrette, professor of the history of theatre at the Sorbonne, suggested audience interaction is part of the job for actors.

‘A live performance, by definition, involves a risk,’ she said. ‘A show where there is no risk is not theatre, it’s cinema.’ 

Now Bérénice is set to go on tour throughout France, bringing a drama that has made headlines in the country to the doorstep of curious theatre fans. 

Sometimes rowdy behaviour can cross a line, with theatregoers needing to be removed, as was seen in recent disruptive incidents in British theatres.

Last summer, four rowdy and disruptive audience members were frogmarched out of Grease the Musical on the West End for drunkenly heckling staff.

Trade union Bectu revealed in 2023 that almost half of UK theatre staff say they’ve considered leaving the industry due to poor behaviour by the public.



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