WHENEVER I review a show and write something along the lines of “it had the audience on its feet” I feel a bit of a fraud.

More often than not there is, technically, a standing ovation, because most audience members are on their feet at the finale. But does that mean it was a terrific show? Or is this ritual of modern theatre now so automatic it has become rather soulless - and meaningless?

This week I couldn’t help applauding (seated, not standing) Broadway and West End star Patti LuPone, who hit out at the American enthusiasm for “cheap” standing ovations.

In a recent interview, the Olivier, Grammy and Tony-winner, who is starring a revival of Stephen Sondheim musical Company in London, was rather scathing about the American enthusiasm for standing to applaud at the end of a performance. She revealed that she stays seated in protest.

“Ovations are cheap in America. It’s almost as if they stand because they have spent so much money”, she said. “I am in protest of standing ovations, I stay seated. I’m just making my point. It’s too cheap to stand now.”

Bravo for her. I know what she means, and it irks me too. Standing ovations have become so commonplace in the theatre that they don’t really mean much anymore.

A standing ovation should be reserved for something truly special. A mindblowing performance that has moved you in some way, made you howl with laughter or wowed you with its world-class performances.

But I would say that on most occasions we stand up because we feel we have to. This is particularly the case at the end of many musicals these days which end with an obligatory high tempo mash-up of numbers from the show, with the cast urging - or sometimes actually ordering - everyone to get on their feet.

I went to see Flashdance the Musical at the Alhambra last week. Overall it was entertaining, with a talented cast, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would. Given a choice, I would have stuck with polite applause at the end, from my seat. I didn’t feel the need to leap up in raptures as the cast took their bows, but when the finale turned into a medley of Eighties floor-fillers, we were told to “get on your feet and dance”.

I didn’t really feel like dancing, to be honest. It was after 10pm on a Tuesday, I’d gone straight from work, it had been a long day and I was tired. Thirty-odd years ago I danced around the living-room to Irene Cara singing Flashdance What a Feeling, but I’m not 15 anymore. Nevertheless, I dutifully stood up, with everyone else, and clapped along as the cast leapt across the stage.

There’s generally an awkward moment with a standing ovation when we peer around furtively to check if anyone else is up first. We’re British - nobody wants to be the first ones to stand up. Once we’ve established there are enough people on their feet, and there’s safety in numbers, we rise, tentatively, and whoop and holler, as if it’s the best show we’ve ever seen. It rarely is. It’s a cheap shot; a way of creating a wow factor for shows that don’t always deserve it, so that theatre reviewers like me can write things like “it had the audience on its feet”.

It means when a production is genuinely outstanding, a standing ovation isn’t quite as spine-tingling and memorable as it should be.

I’ve joined in with standing ovations for shows I didn’t even like much. Maybe I should follow Patti LuPone’s lead and remain seated in protest, even if it means sinking into my seat in shame.

Curtain twitchers keep our neighbourhoods secure

* WE'RE said to be a nation of curtain-twitchers, and new research reveals the lengths Brits go to spy on their neighbours.

Nearly 30per cent of folk surveyed by Anglian Home Improvements turn down the TV to listen to an argument next door. Other confessions include peeking through blinds, over the fence and through windows, and having a snoop when you're watering the plants or feeding pets. Around one in seven even go out into the street in their dressing-gown to get a closer look at goings-on.

I'm guilty to most of the above (not the latter). My grandma leapt from her sofa whenever anyone walked past, so curtain-twitching is in my blood. It's human nature - and when it comes to home security, having nosy neighbours is a blessing.

Purple haze that says spring is - finally - here

* ONE of the loveliest sights at this time of year is an eruption of bluebells.

Walking by Shipley Glen Tramway, in that small window of time when the wildflower woodland is covered in a delicate carpet of purple, is a joyful reminder that spring is finally here. The bluebell season is short - lasting from April to May - but, like the cherry blossom that bursts through trees in springtime, it's so uplifting.

After such a long slog of a winter, it's about time Mother Nature cast off her old cloak and showed off some new season colours.