'Why Go?' Judi Dench Slams A Common Theater Protocol

British actor Judi Dench said this week that trigger warnings for theatrical productions are blunting the shows’ dramatic impact.

The Tony Award-winning star expressed surprise at what has become a routine procedure to caution audiences about violence and disturbing themes.

“Do they do that?” Dench told the UK’s Radio Times magazine in a story published Monday. “It must be a pretty long trigger warning before ‘King Lear’ or ‘Titus Andronicus.’”

“I can see why they exist, but if you’re that sensitive, don’t go to the theater, because you could be very shocked,” she said. “Where is the surprise of seeing and understanding it in your own way?”

“Why go to the theater if you’re going to be warned about things that are in the play?” she continued. “Isn’t the whole business of going to the theater about seeing something that you can be excited, surprised or stimulated by? It’s like being told they’re all dead at the end of ‘King Lear.’ I don’t want to be told.”

Judi Dench is no fan of trigger warnings.
Judi Dench is no fan of trigger warnings. Chris Jackson via Getty Images

Another noteworthy thespian, Ian McKellen, complained about detailed alerts for a recent London production he headlined, “Frank and Percy.”

“Outside theaters and in the lobbies, including this one, the audience is warned ‘there is a loud noise and at one point, there are flashing lights,’ ‘there is reference to smoking,’ ‘there is reference to bereavement,’” McKellen said, per the Independent. “I think it’s ludicrous. I quite like to be surprised by loud noises and outrageous behavior on stage.”

Theaters commonly post warnings about certain special effects such as strobe lights because of the profound health effects they can cause for some patrons.

A critic in The Washington Post went after a production of “1776” for its explicit trigger warning: “Please be advised: This production contains stylized representations of racialized violence, particularly related to enslavement. Additionally, this production contains sexually suggestive themes, occasional strong language, haze, a brief strobe effect, a non-firing replica firearm, and a gunshot sound effect.”

“Just how much coddling do theatergoers need these days?” Richard Zoglin wrote in his 2022 essay.