How About a Round of Applause?

Post length: 621 words, almost 3 minutes.

Am I the only London theatregoer left who thinks that a standing ovation should be reserved for only the very special — for time when you really have been blown away by a performer or cast — and not for West End productions which are the same day-in, day-out? Of course there will always be special cases, and everyone has a different opinion of what is good and what is astounding, but why is it increasingly the case that the whole audience feels the need to leap to their feet?

Monica and I went to two West End musicals last weekend as an Easter treat. First The Phantom of the Opera, and second Cats. Both very different, and both good professional productions, well executed and totally immersive. There is no doubt that we enjoyed them both and that the skills of all involved were excellent, but they weren’t, for me at least, anything groundbreaking.

That opinion was not, apparently, shared by the majority of the audience. As the curtain came down large swathes of the audience jumped up. More followed as leading actors took their curtain call. I suppose both audiences must have regarded the performances they had just seen as the best piece of theatre they had ever experienced. Or was it something else?

I have no doubt that some of the people who visit West End theatres attend live performances very infrequently. Indeed it wouldn’t surprise me if both of the musicals we saw last weekend were in fact the first productions some of the audience had ever seen — West End theatre is, after all, a tourist industry. In these cases I can understand the magic and amazement and the want to show appreciation for the cast, but for others it seems that the standing ovation is becoming a bit of a habit.

And it’s irritating. For a start if a standing ovation is becoming the norm 8 times a week, if something has really been outstanding how can I, as a member of the audience, show my appreciation for it? Like the boy who cried wolf the audience who, after every show, leaps up in rapture is devaluing the gesture. How can a performer know, if they see it every day, that my specific standing really is a sign that I thought their performance was outstanding? Secondly, and more annoyingly, if the whole row in front of me stands up then that’s the end of my view of the stage. I like to see the cast take their curtain call — it’s great to see their smiling faces after an arduous 2 and a half hours, and to share at least a little in their success — I like the backs of the people in front of me much less.

So it’s also infectious. It doesn’t matter how much I enjoyed the performance because if the people in front of me stand up, in order to continue enjoying it, I also have to get up. So I’ve been forced into a “standing ovation” which I’m not committed to. The people next to me now have people in front standing up, people to their side standing up and most likely people behind standing up for the same reason that I stood up, and peer pressure being what it is they feel bad still sitting down (“Hey, did I miss something? I’d better get up too!).

So we stayed resolutely sitting down. It’s not that we didn’t enjoy it, and it’s not that we thought the performers and productions weren’t some of the best in the business, it’s simply a firm belief that extra special praise should be reserved for extra special moments and not for every thing one ever does.

Posted on Tuesday 14th April, 2015 at 8:58 am in Obiter dicta, Theatre.
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