Standing Ovations Are They Becoming Too Frequent?


After 4 hours of Hamlet, the audience were standing simply to relieve their numb bums and get the blood circulating once more.

I mentioned recently that at The Sunshine Boys that I saw on Friday night the entire audience gave the cast (specifically Danny DeVito) a standing ovation. I received a comment on my Facebook page saying;

“Don’t you think it’s getting harder by the day NOT to give a standing ovation in a London theatre any more? I’m not against them if they’re fully deserved, as this one seems to have been, but if they become the norm how do we mark the difference between outstanding excellence as opposed to something pretty good?”

I think she raises a very valid point here. As I said in my review of The Sunshine Boys I seldom give a standing ovation. I too though have noticed they are become more and more frequent to compared to 5-10 years ago.

I think there are a few different types of standing ovation though:

  1. The spontaneous standing ovation where everyone leaps to their feet at the end in rousing applause and cheers of “Bravo!!”
  2. The type where a few stand and then slowly the rest of the audience get up, there comes a point where if anyone wants to see the stage they HAVE to stand up in order to do so.
  3. When only a few people stand.

Number 1 is to me what a “true” standing ovation is.

Number 2 is an object lesson in how we act as “herds” on occasions but also how a full ovation might not be due to everyone being fully appreciative.

Number 3 is the most common I currently see, it can be due to genuine appreciation but is more often friends/family or over zealous fans being in the audience

One of the reasons I think their more common now is in no small part to TV and shows such as Strictly Come Dancing where the audience give an ovation to almost every blasted dance. “Stand, clap like seals and whoop even when it’s a shamefully poor performance” seems to be the brief the audience are given prior to the show.

Times change and I think the standing ovation has too. Notice I gave a standing ovation to The Sunshine Boys but I only gave it 4 stars. My standing was a salute to Danny DeVito, however the dated script meant I felt the show didn’t quite get my top score. Should I have given it 5 stars if I stood?

A week earlier I saw Jonathan Farrell and Alex Lawther give equally amazing performances in South Downs / The Browning Version giving it 5 Stars. Yet I stayed seated, was this in part due to the nature of the play? It’s not a comedy like The Sunshine Boys so a spontaneous stand seemed out-of-place.

People do still seem to judge a show by whether it gets an ovation though. My American theatre friends tell me they ignore them now as everything seems to get one in the US, have we is Britain succumbed to another Americanism? If so the ovation may become more common but equally become meaningless.

Thoughts, observations and comments welcome 🙂


8 thoughts on “Standing Ovations Are They Becoming Too Frequent?

  1. You’re right that it’s much more a London thing than a provincial one. The most spontaneous one I’ve been part of was at the end of the RSC’s Histories – the final weekend at Stratford where most of the audience had spent 4 days (not to mention 3 years) living and breathing the 8 plays, and for those of us who had watched them develop from the outset it felt like the end of a great adventure that we’d all been on together.

  2. I agree. However, it really means something if one of my productions/exam performances gets one ‘cos it doesn’t happen often. I have been known to stand with the herd or feel left out/cannot see, etc.

  3. I stood with the heard for John Heffernan’s Richard II in Bristol because it would have sent the wrong signal not to (front row, in the round studio, and it was a very good production – it would have looked like I hadn’t enjoyed it if I’d stayed in my seat). But it wasn’t *that* special.

  4. I think with school productions/exams and even some amateur groups, even the cumudgeonly critic in me would stand if appropriate Debbie 🙂

    Anna I agree that sometimes it is hard to not stand too, especially if you’re in a visible place like the front row. I’ve not been in that situation yet, although a few times I’ve thought people must be looking at me thinking I’m a miserable git!

    It is very easy to get swept up and take part in a standing ovation, I’m aware of numerous tricks some acts and shows have used in past to get them, although Tommy Coopers playing of National Anthem was always a personal fave! Dreamboats and Petticoats has everyone up dancing for last 10/15 minutes, technically that is a standing ovation, but as they’ve told audience to get up on their feet I’m not sure that one counts.

  5. I think this is a very American thing seeping in. In Broadway, everyone ovates everything. I saw probably the very worst “mama” in “gypsy”, and because she was a big name, the whole audience ovated for her.
    I never ovate unless it is truly outstanding, but then am left unable to see. In Glasgow, it is becoming very common in the bigger theatres. However, that will start me on a rather snobbish rant about how people don’t know how to behave in the theatre any more!!

  6. Pingback: Theatre Etiquette – Guest Post | Theatre Thoughts Blog

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