Notes on...

We’ve reached standing ovation saturation

2 July 2022

9:00 AM

2 July 2022

9:00 AM

‘And now the end is here / And so I face the final curtain…’ You said it, Frank. The lights dim, the curtain falls, exeunt all to rapturous applause. Too rapturous, if you ask me. The standing ovation, once the exception, is now the rule.

Post-Covid, I got it. After months of empty theatres and keeping the ghost lamps burning, I’d have clapped any man and his dog to the skies. But university revues, pub two-handers, primary-school plays?

I feel a scab for sitting when every man jack is on his feet. I did it at Cabaret, The Glass Menagerieand Straight Line Crazy. A sit-in protest. ‘Grinch,’ you’ll say, and fair enough. But I want a standing ovation to mean something. An exclamation mark, not just a standard full-stop. I want to save it for the best of the best.

The critic Fiona Mountford, a woman who has seen more plays than you’ve had hot pre-theatre dinners, once gave me a piece of advice about star ratings. She said that while you might wrestle with your conscience over a three- or four-star review, with a five-star show you just knew. The same goes for standing ovations. The rise should be unbidden, your clutch bag slipping off your lap as you stand. Bravo! Brava! Bravissima! At Jerusalem last week, my husband turned to me and whispered: ‘Standing?’ I was already halfway up. At Frozen the Musical, I stood, I whooped, I cried ‘Encore!’ No luck. The show must not go on. Most of the audience, average age seven, were past their bedtime.

If you stand for every clog dance, what are you going to do when Vadim Muntagirov pulls off a perfect solo from La Bayadère? A dancer’s curtain-call curtsey is called a ‘révérence’. It is performed at the end of classes to thank the teacher and in front of the red curtains to thank the black-tied stalls.

I’ll never forget the night I went to the Bolshoi. The bouquets of flowers brought on at the end, then picnic hampers of flowers, Alibaba baskets of flowers, Moses baskets of flowers. Finally, Roman Abramovich was ushered on stage, like a prize orchid, to kiss the prima ballerina. I saw Zenaida Yanowsky’s swan-song as principal dancer for the Royal Ballet in 2017, dancing the lead in Frederick Ashton’s Marguerite and Armand. The curtain call must have lasted half an hour. It was ecstatic, euphoric and endless. I was desperate for a wee.

When an actor or a company milks it, I always think of Fräulein Schweiger, first soloist of the choir of St Agatha’s Church, who in The Sound of Music wins fourth place in the Salzburg Musical Festival and bows so much and so often that she has to be ushered off the stage. Don’t be a Schweiger. Leave them hungry. That’s all, folks.

Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Charles Hart got it right in The Phantom of the Opera. When leading lady Carlotta refuses to take the stage, for the understandable reason that cast and crew keep dying in gruesome circumstances, she persuades herself back with the promise of the curtain call. In her dressing room she sings to her own reflection: ‘Think how you’ll shine/ In that final encore!/ Sing, prima donna, once more!’

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