Ralph Fiennes on trigger warnings: Theatre should shock and disturb audiences

Ralph Fiennes has called for trigger warnings, which let audiences know if there is upsetting content, to be scrapped saying people should be “shocked and disturbed” by theatre.

The 61-year-old British actor, known for period drama The English Patient, holocaust film Schindler’s List and comedy The Grand Budapest Hotel, is starring in an immersive touring production of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg
Ralph Fiennes appeared on Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg (Jeff Overs/BBC/PA)

Suffolk-born Fiennes told BBC One’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg: “I think we didn’t used to have trigger warnings. I mean, there are very disturbing scenes in Macbeth, terrible murders and things.

“But I think the impact of theatre should be that you’re 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 for shows.”

The two-time Oscar nominated actor, who won a Tony award for best actor in a US production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet in 1995, agreed that it should be “got rid” of and said that physical warnings for issues such as strobe effects should still be flagged.

“Shakespeare’s plays are full of murderers, full of horror … It’s the shock, the unexpected, that’s what makes an actor (in) theatre so exciting,” Fiennes also said.

British actor Simon Callow has previously called for getting rid of trigger warnings in a letter to The Times newspaper after it emerged a theatre had told audiences that The Sound Of Music touched on “the threat of Nazi Germany and the annexation of Austria”.

Known for romantic films A Room With A View and Four Weddings And A Funeral, the 74-year-old said that theatre is “a safe space” and “not a pulpit, but a gymnasium of the imagination”.

Fiennes also called ticket prices “worryingly high at the moment, particularly in the West End” when asked about London’s Savoy Theatre having reportedly £300 ticket prices for Plaza Suite starring husband and wife actors Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker as a couple in the comedy.

“I have to confess I was invited to the opening night (for Plaza Suite) and I got a freebie,” he also said. “It was very good. Yeah, they are brilliant, brilliant, brilliant comic performances.”

Fiennes maintained that prices can come down as he said his production of Macbeth – which has upcoming dates in London and Washington – has “20% of our tickets across the board” at the £15 to £20 mark and 50% are around £50.

The King’s Man premiere – London
Ralph Fiennes said he believed trigger warnings in theatre should go (Ian West/PA)

Elsewhere, he spoke about his campaign against plans to build “an energy hub” near Aldeburgh in Suffolk which brings in electricity from wind farms.

“We believe that this will have a devastating negative impact on local communities, farming, fishing, tourism, when it can be done better, which is offshore hubs,” Fiennes, also known for playing Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter films and M in the James Bond series, added.

“This is a long-term legacy for our country. This is the infrastructure going into the future, it might be more expensive in the short, in the mid-term, we’re convinced it’s not. But this is really vital that we get this right.

“And the solution, the implementation of this structure is destructive and I’ve been looking, I’ve been excited to look at what the Belgians and the Danes are doing by these offshore infrastructures, which are then ecologically friendly, and they take their cabling onshore to a brownfield site, which is critical.

“This is a greenfield site proposal.”

He said that the proposals had wider implications as building “new clean energy infrastructure is really, really vital” and called the current proposals a “disaster”.

ScottishPower Renewables (SPR) has previously defended the plans.

SPR said it would help climate change efforts and it is trying to protect “the local environment and minimise the potential onshore impacts of the construction programme”.

A spokesperson for National Grid said there “is no fully offshore solution to connect offshore wind to the grid in any country, and building new network to connect cheaper, cleaner electricity is the only way to bring energy bills down long term”.

“Our role is to future proof the grid for years to come by carefully developing proposals with environmental and biodiversity considerations that represent value for money for all consumers, facilitating the transition to a clean, fair, and affordable energy future,” they added.