Ovation (from The Free Dictionary)

  1. Enthusiastic, prolonged applause.
  2. A show of public homage or welcome.
  3. An ancient Roman victory ceremony of somewhat less importance than a triumph.

Last week, thanks to the eagle-eyed efforts of Paul the Dodgy Aussie, I was priveleged to see the farewell tour of British Comedy Legends French & Saunders – in concert for their last hurrah at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.  It was more of a box-ticking exercise than anything else, and I’m glad I didn’t have huge expectations, as it was all a bit rubbish really: very few people do “silly” as well as those two, although that’s not what I was writing this for, and there are better written reviews to be found around the place.

The thing which irked my irky-bits was that at the conclusion of the performance the crowd applauded wildly (far too enthusiastically for my satisfaction), and next thing you knew, they’d all risen to their feet – turning what I’d thought was merely a misguided sign of appreciation into a higher accolade still, a standing ovation.

I’ve never been a huge fan of the standing ovation as a gesture of appreciation – for one thing, what’s meant to be that much more meaningful to an entertainer that you’ve been so overwhelmed by their performance that you felt compelled to try to move your applause about a foot closer to where they are?  And supposing the performance is already audience-standing – they’ve got no scope for providing such an accolade!

Having thought about this blog post all afternoon, I’ve decided that ovators fall into 5 main categories:

  1. People who are easily moved and/or have low standards – this explains why tedious crap like Phantom Of The Opera gets SO’s on a nightly basis, and has done since 1986.  The sad part is that these people actually mean it when they give an SO.  Every time.  They’re probably the same ones you see clapping at the cinema.
  2. People who don’t know any better, and assume that that’s what you do when you go to the theatre because it’s what everyone else is doing – this also explains why people push 50p coins into those slots to hire crappy plastic binoculars with which ti better view the performance from their stalls seat, and why people happily fork out £4 for a tub holding half a handful of icecream at interval.
  3. Anyone who tries to internally justify the money they’ve spent on a ticket by making an outward declaration of just how much they’ve enjoyed it.
  4. Anyone who stands up and claps in order to demonstrate to everyone around them that they’ve enjoyed the performance more than anyone else in the room.
  5. People who are sitting immediately behind someone who elects to give an SO, who stand up because they can’t see what’s going on on stage through the person in front’s arse.

You may have gathered by now that I’m not a huge fan of the practice.

That’s not to say that I don’t think you should express your appreciation for a good performance – I guess I’d always assumed that the correct medium for this was sustained enthusiastic applause.  Perhaps that’s a cultural thing though – I was brought up in suburban Adelaide under the impression that at the conclusion of the performance if you enjoyed it you would clap (and if appropriate, hoot & holler) and if the clapping was loud & sustained this would indicate to the artist that the audience was moved by the presentation, and they may then elect to treat the room to another morsel from their repertoire in the form of an encore.  To put it another way, I’d always assumed that a crowd had to work to get an encore out of a performer – based on my observations in London this doesn’t appear to be the case at all.  At many gigs I’ve been to the audience, whilst clearly enjoying the band, EXPECTS an encore, and as such cheers at the end of the last song, then the applause dies down (other than the few other Aussies in the room all working their palms to redness for fear that the band won’t re-emerge), and then restarts when the band do invariably re-emerge.

The arrival of an encore of course provides the other ludicrous moment of a standing ovation – as the artist starts to speak, the rapturous applause is suddenly cut off as the once applauding crowd turn en-masse to fold down their seats again, and then sit.  CLAPCLAPCLAPCLAPCLAPCLAPCLAPCLAP(imperceptible moment’s silence)Clunk-Clunk-Clunkunkunk-Clunk-C-Clunk, etc.

You’re right – I’m clearly just bitter about being forced to my feet at a performance where we spent about 30% of the show watching prerecorded video footage, and another 30% laughing politely at inane substandard predictable humour.

Perhaps I should invent some sort of Response Regulatory System for theatres, where people are clamped into their seats, and only after a significant volume of applause has been achieved over a nominated duration then is the tension on the shackles released enough to allow for people to stand.  I’d vote for me, really I would.