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Culture Secretary doubles down on previous comments around trigger warnings and speaks about forthcoming review of Arts Council England during interview with Arts Professional.

Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer
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UK Government

Productions containing disturbing scenes such as serious sexual assualt do not require trigger warnings as people should be able to make a decision based on reviews, Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer has said.

Speaking in a wide-ranging interview with Arts Professional Frazer doubled down on comments made last month to The Sun in which she said people going to the theatre should be "treated in an adult way".

"When we go to the theatre, many of us go to the theatre because we want to engage with complex subjects about human life," she told Arts Professional.

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"That is one of the reasons why people go to the theatre - to understand more about serious issues which affect us all. 

"For example, to do a trigger warning on a play Shakespeare play where we know what the issues are and they are well-trodden themes, I don't think is necessary."

Several leading actors have spoken out against their use, most recently Cate Blanchett who in an interview with The Sunday Times said that being part of an audience "surrendering to what is coming" is one of her "favourite feelings".

However, accessibility campaigners highlight the necessity of trigger warnings - pointing out the difference between "being offended" and the debilitating effects of a full trigger response, which can include flashbacks, uncontrollable thoughts, suicidal ideation and nightmares.

Asked specifically whether trigger warnings are justifiable for productions that are not well-known and contain scenes relating to disturbing issues such as serious sexual assualt, Frazer said:

"Most plays are reviewed, so people are aware of what the play is about and people choose to go because the subject matter appeals to them. 

"I think we go to the theatre to be challenged and to consider the very often interesting interpretations of the art."

During the interview Frazer also said that she has no intention of axing Arts Council England, which is awaiting a full-scale independent review.

The review will be tasked with looking at the effectiveness of the organisation and its governance, as well as assessing whether its functions should be delivered by the State, or whether an alternative, such as abolition, privatisation, or a merger is "more fitting".

Asked if the review could look into potential ways of changing the way that public funding is distributed to arts organisations, Frazer said: "The review will be more looking at structures in the round.

She added that she has "no plans" to abolish the organisation.

Budget measures

In reference to measures outlined by Chancellor Jeremy Hunt in his Spring Budget last week, including permanently increasing rates of cultural tax relief for theatres, orchestras, museums, and galleries, Frazer said the move is one of a "whole range of things" the government is doing for arts and culture.

"I do think it's important to recognise how significant the [budget] announcement was," she said.

"There's a billion pounds worth of investment into the creative industries and arts and culture, because they're all part of the same ecosystem.

"The reason we announced [the measures] is because we've had huge engagement with the sector to understand what they want - what would be game changing for them. 

"And we've done it. We've listened, and that's what we've delivered. What I've heard as I've been doing roundtables and talking to the sector is that the theatre, orchestra and galleries tax relief is enabling productions that would never have happened, things that I've seen, like My Neighbour Totoro and Dear England. They just wouldn't have happened. 

"They're creating jobs. They're allowing producers to take risks on productions, which they wouldn't otherwise be able to do."

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Comments

Nothing about the existential crisis being faced by the sector as local authority funding is cut, cost of living crisis etc. Are trigger warnings really the big issue?

I suspect they're a big issue to those who are triggered by them. But then I can't really see what the harm is in saying that the production deals with themes of 'xyz' and leaving it to the audiences to make an informed decision. Trigger warnings don't stop you enjoying the performance, but they might help someone prepare for content which is otherwise quite profoundly affecting for them. What is the harm in them? As for reviews, I recall in 2019 the Glyndebourne production of Pelleas et Melisande featuring a rather nightmarish scene of sexual child abuse, seemingly out of nowhere. That caused quite the stir on Dress Rehearsal night, especially for the schools that had been invited, as there was no reference to this content anywhere in the programme, or communications from the learning team!

Surely she should be able to recognise that just because she doesn't need something, doesn't mean that someone else might need it. So disappointing!