Is the standing ovation expected for all shows now?

Is this most special of accolades no longer reserved for the creme de la creme of theatre?

I think I have stood for only a handful of times in over 40 years. But, as a reviewer you see all manner of events see people rise as one cheer, applaud and worship.

Juke Box musicals – the current obsession with theatre producers – seem to employ a special trick – get the link man to call the audience to get to their feet. So, it is no longer voluntary, it is expected, even when the show is utter dross.

Oh I know this subject has been done to death recently, but it is an interesting one. 

A couple of years ago I was watching a touring version of ‘Hairspray’ and the friend I was with was on his feet the moment the show ended. ‘What aren’t you getting up?’ he said to the whole party, ‘don’t they deserve this? They worked really hard.’

I am all for praising hard work, but there has to be a level of hard work which supercedes the others. The other week I was at one of the worst professional shows I have ever witnessed, but the vast majority of the audience seemed to love it. Was there something wrong with me? No, I don’t believe so. This was lazy theatre and I don’t have a huge amount of time for that.

‘The show is pitched at a certain audience.’, so said a contact I had on the inside. That may be true, and that’s fine, but why serve them up something so obviously sub-standard.

By the end of the show I wanted to get out, but, the cast were encouraging everyone to get out of their seats and dance and clap along to the ‘megamix’ which brought about the final curtain. I staunchly stayed in my seat. No shame. No interest. No stars for the review if I had been allowed to give none! So, they got a standing ovation – the last one I took part in was for Sir Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake – still one of the best theatrical experiences I have ever had. The sheer amount of work for each performer is immense. This deserves something a bit extra.

But the standing ‘o’s’ continue for those shows which, in my opinion, do not deserve them. 

So, how are we to differentiate between the ordinary standing ovation and the extraordinary? Do we stand on our seats and risk being catapulted into the row behind? I think not.

Is a standing ovation just a piece of old theatre etiquette which modern audiences don’t fully appreciate? Or is that just a snobbish view? The audiences are often on their feet at talent shows like X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent, so maybe people are just following in the footsteps. Maybe quality is not something that is important? Maybe some audiences just don’t visit the theatre enough to be able to make a judgement on what is good and what isn’t?

Whatever, the reason, I think we are stuck with them – fashions like this do not just stop. For those people who reserve this action for the very best we will have to grit our teeth. I, for one, will stay firmly rooted in my seat unless the production and performances deserve some action on my part!

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