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Ian McKellen criticises use of ‘ludicrous’ theatre trigger warnings on his own play

Ian McKellen has criticised the use of trigger warnings in theatre, despite them being used in the West End play he is currently starring in.

The Lord of the Rings actor is currently starring in Frank and Percy, a two-hander about the relationship between two older men who meet walking their dogs on Hampstead Heath.

The show opened at The Other Palace in London on Tuesday (26 September). You can read The Independent’s review here.

Speaking to Sky News, McKellen, 84, took aim at the fact that the show has a list of trigger warnings on the website. These are used to warn audience members about potentially distressing subject matter which they may find upsetting.

Frank and Percy is billed as containing strong language, sexual references, and discussions of bereavement and cancer, with the show given a 14-and-over suggested age rating.

“Outside theatres 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.

“I think it’s ludicrous, myself, yes, absolutely. I quite like to be surprised by loud noises and outrageous behaviour on stage.”

Ian McKellen (left) and Roger Allam in ‘Frank and Percy' (Jack Merriman)
Ian McKellen (left) and Roger Allam in ‘Frank and Percy' (Jack Merriman)

It’s not the first time McKellen has spoken out against content warnings being placed on Frank and Percy and other works of art.

Speaking toThe Evening Standard earlier this month, McKellen said: “I think, on the whole, speech should be free, and freely available. And perhaps sometimes combine that with a health warning.

“There are warnings now, when you go to a theatre: there will be cigarette smoke, there will be loud bangs, there will be discussion of bereavement and all sorts of things you’re warned about.”

He continued: “Why can’t they, when someone with strong points of view that you don’t agree with is coming to your university, why don’t they just say outside, this person will be talking about these topics? So the audience can make up its own mind.”

In recent years, there has been much debate around the use of trigger warnings. This has often been related to universities, where the works by authors such as Jane Austen have come with warnings about potentially triggering material.

In January, the University of Greenwich was accused of “infantilising” students when they warned students that Austen’s 1817 satire Northanger Abbey contained “gender stereotypes” and “sexism”.