Sometimes when you see something on stage which makes you wince. Or makes you feel uncomfortable to sit through. Sometimes you think ‘maybe they could have left that out’ or, ‘that could have been done better’. We are lucky to think this though, for others, depictions which are too graphic can lead them to recall an ugly experience, such as sexual assault. This raises the question; how much should we show on stage?
Some people may argue that it’s just theatre, escapism and an opportunity to experience something that isn’t the world in its current state, but in this society, hasn’t anything with influence become political? In a recent interview with The Guardian, Thomas Kail, director of ‘Hamilton’, said he and Lin Manuel-Miranda always intended for Hamilton to ‘[hold] up a mirror to society’, as a social and political commentary. Given its vast success, surely it demonstrates the power of theatre. The diverse casting has itself been described as a political statement, with lines such as “immigrants, we get the job done” becoming widely approved. Given its massive success on Broadway, multiple tours across the US, and eleven Tony Awards, as well as making its debut on the West End recently people know its values and what it stands for.
‘Hamilton’ emanates a message of equality and acceptance, its success showing how influential theatre can be. Taking this into consideration, should theatre be graphic on stage? Drama can cause people to question their values. In the case of ‘Hamilton’ it went viral this year after it directly addressed Mike Pence, showing one of many ways theatre can make politics more accessible. Surely then, the more detail included, the more it can cause people to question their views? The production of ‘Rita, Sue and Bob too’ was recently cancelled, although later reinstated, as a result of the sexual allegations against its co-producer, amongst other accounts of sexual abuse. Could this be a chance for artistic director Vicky Featherstone, who has been a pioneer against sexual harassment within the industry, to develop the show for a modern audience? They could show the assault to be of a morally degenerate nature rather than placing it amongst the comedy with which it has previously been associated. Some people believe theatre should make us uncomfortable, its very purpose is to make us re-evaluate our opinions, but should it be graphic? Especially within the contemporary context of recent sexual assault reports, it is ambiguous as to whether it would lead to positive change or reinforce rape culture.
In an environment though where men are increasingly being shown the consequences for their actions, should we be showing that these actions are inexcusable by making them more graphic and horrific? This is the perspective certain theatre-goers take. When ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ debuted, audiences cheered when Stanley raped Blanche. In the same way ‘The Tempest’ has been adapted to explicitly show Caliban as a victim of imperialistic attitudes, should Blanche, despite being ethically challengeable herself, be shown as a victim of toxic masculinity in a more graphic fashion? Could this assimilation of classic plays into a more modern context demonstrate to the audience the attitude we should be taking against sexual harassment? Alternatively, is this too graphic? Would this perpetrate rape culture and reinforce those values? Should theatre be more considerate of its viewers and not actively try to make them uncomfortable? Questions that do not have definitive answers, but questions theatregoers and production teams should have to think about nonetheless.