‘Theatre shows don’t need trigger warnings – if you’re anxious, stay away’

Gregory Doran
Gregory Doran was appointed as the artistic director at the RSC in 2012 - Geoff Pugh for The Telegraph
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The director emeritus of the Royal Shakespeare Company has said trigger warnings are not necessary and told anxious theatregoers to stay away.

Gregory Doran, a former artistic director of the RSC, was speaking during a Q&A following a lecture about Titus Andronicus last week.

Mr Doran said he “hates” pre-performance cautionary advice, according to the trade publication The Stage. Trigger warnings for violence, language, loud noises and even references to smoking have become a commonplace fixture of modern theatre.

He told an audience at London South Bank University: “How do you do [content warnings] for Titus Andronicus? You just don’t come. Don’t come if you are worried, if you are anxious – stay away.”

Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus features rape and violence as prisoners take revenge on a Roman general and target his children. Titus then kills two of the prisoners and cooks them in a pie, which he serves to their mother before murdering her.

Mr Doran was appointed as the artistic director at the RSC in 2012, succeeding Michael Boyd. In 2022, he became director emeritus.

During the lecture, he also spoke about his 1994 production of the play and the significance of its extreme violence in today’s “violent world”.

Surprise ‘makes theatre so exciting’

Mr Doran’s criticism of the warnings comes after Ralph Fiennes, Sir Ian McKellen and Christopher Biggins called for them to be scrapped.

The 61-year old actor, Fiennes, said stage performances ought to leave audiences “shocked and disturbed”, adding that the aspect of surprise is “what makes theatre so exciting”.

Speaking on the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg show, he was asked if attendees had gone too “soft”.

Ralph Fiennes has called for trigger warnings to be scrapped
Ralph Fiennes has called for trigger warnings to be scrapped - Paul Grover for The Telegraph

He said: “I think audiences have. We didn’t used to have trigger warnings. There are very disturbing scenes in Macbeth, terrible murders and things, but I think the impact of theatre is that you should be shocked and you should be disturbed.

“I don’t think you should be prepared for these things and when I was young we never had trigger warnings before a show.”

He added: “Shakespeare’s plays are full of murder and full of horror, and as a young student and lover of the theatre I never experienced trigger warnings like, ‘oh, by the way, in King Lear, Gloucester’s going to have his eyes pulled out’.

“Theatre needs to be alive and in the present. It’s the shock, it’s the unexpected, that’s what makes the theatre so exciting.”

Sir Ian last year criticised “ludicrous” warnings for his play Frank and Percy at The Other Palace in London.

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