Ladies and gentlemen, put your hands together for… the standing ovation!

I’m not usually good at things that could be considered slightly cringeworthy. There are certain displays of collective emotion, jubilation or despair that I find too earnest to bear. But the first day of this year’s Wimbledon – my enjoyment of which I wrote about recently – reminded me of how much I can get down with a standing ovation.

As a pre-match announcement was made that Dame Sarah Gilbert and her team, who developed the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, and some NHS staff, were seated in one of the boxes, a deafening ripple of seemingly endless applause filled the court. Then, perhaps realising this wasn’t sufficient praise and appreciation, the crowd rose to their feet. A closeup of Gilbert’s face saw her quite dumbstruck and overwhelmed, tears dancing in her eyes. It was partly thanks to Gilbert that the crowd were able to be there at all. It was extremely moving.

Part of the reason I love theatre is the prospect of a standing ovation at the end; the communal recognition that we have been lucky enough to witness a first-class performance, and therefore want to congratulate the cast and everyone working behind the scenes – for months, no less – on their successful efforts.

The Mexican wave at sporting events can, of course, tip into tediousness, as can anything when it becomes too much of a good thing. If a wave continues to roll, the endless sitting and standing is an irritation – like the person in the middle row at the cinema who keeps getting up for a wee. But the initial stages are a joy; especially because usually they happen in dull sections of play, and I very much approve of the sentiment of “screw it, we’ll make our own entertainment”. It also amuses me to observe the reluctant people being broken as they, sheepishly, eventually join in. The kiss of death for the Mexican wave at a high-profile event is a politician’s involvement. Always at least two beats behind.

We have been denied crowd and audience participation for so long now that it is still an adjustment seeing thousands of people in an arena, stadium or arts venue. Still an adjustment being part of one. But, as the saying goes, absence makes the heart grow fonder, and as the other saying goes, you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. I will be increasing my leg work in the gym, readying myself for many more standing ovations to come.

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