Rupert Christiansen

A short history of applause – and booing

Today's vacuous nightly West End standing ovations represent a significant departure from the custom of 50 years ago

Britain is largely free of claques, a mafia-type menace that corrupts mainland Europe: 'The Claque in action', c.1830-40. Image: © Archives Charmet / Bridgeman Images

A dank Tuesday evening in a West End theatre. The auditorium is barely two thirds full. The play is nothing special – certainly not spectacular. Your neighbour is struggling to stay awake. The reception, however, is tumultuous. The audience is on its feet, squealing, whistling and whooping as though someone has just found the cure for cancer.

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