Singing in the Aisles

It is an old musical theatre stereotype to use the aisles of the theatre as part of the stage and have actors singing and acting millimetres away from the audience. But while it may be a stereotype, does that necessarily mean it is a bad thing?


The Lion King is famous for processing huge animal costumes down the aisles mid-show to make a statement and break that barrier between the audience and what is happening on stage. It really is a defining feature of the musical, a feature which inspires copious word of mouth recommendations and return business.

But using the aisles was taken to a whole new level last night when I saw Matilda. It was as if there were another three entrances to the stage!

Quite often characters would enter the stage through the aisles or continue the action of the performance down into the front of the theatre – even making appearances in the boxes at the end of the mezzanine to sing. But the surrounding experience did not end there. Audio bites were projected from all different levels at the back of the theatre and lighting often left the stage in favour of the audience.

While this had the effect of extending the performance areas well beyond the confines of the stage, it also ensured that the audience were completely involved in the show. Even if you were sitting at the back of the theatre, there was still action going on behind you.

This feeling of involvement certainly inspires increased word of mouth as audience members feel they were actually involved in the story. But it also shows some thought of the main audience during the creation of the show.

Though the show has adults raving, it also attracts a lot of children and families to the theatre because of the Roald Dahl subject matter. This is by no means a detracting point as the show has been written so that anybody of any age can enjoy it. But having children at a two-and-a-half hour show means that something needs to be done to keep concentration.

And utilising the aisles and the surrounding theatre is the perfect way to do this. By enveloping the audience (and kids) into the show, rather than creating an invisible barrier at the end of the stage, there is such a large amount of stimuli that there is no other option than to remain rapt in what is going on.

This is seriously one of the cleverest shows I have seen and it isn’t just because they have extended the performance space into the aisles. There are colour playbill covers. There is audience interaction. There is catchy music. The list just goes on and on!