I am going to get straight to the point and say nothing is taboo in Theatre. There I said it. Of course everyone has a different opinion on what is meant by taboo and what they believe falls under this label. The Oxford Dictionary’s Online definition is as follows:
One of the flaws in this definition is it states that it’s social or religious custom that is the cause of something been perceived as taboo, this implies it’s one or the other. Surely, it could be in some cases a mixture of both. This combination has been implemented from a less accepting society that existed previously, whose ripple effect can still be felt unfortunately today.
Shock tactic, publicity stunt, yes we have all heard those terms when there is nudity in a play. But why is nudity still termed by many as taboo? People are naked all in the time in their own home (ok maybe not all the time unless you are a naturist) so if a play has for example a nude scene set in ones home, as in the case of Kevin Eylot’s wonderful play My Night With Reg the character of John shows full frontal nudity, this is actually rather realistic. Let me point out too without going in to detail of the plot,that nudity was a metaphor for being exposed and secretly afraid.
Religion will inevitably be blamed for being the cause of taboo subjects but it’s as I previously described it’s a mixture of religious and social customs. In the case of sexual intimacy on stage, I don’t believe religion would be the reason if it perhaps being seen as pornographic, this would be more down the social customs that sex happens behind ‘closed doors’. But sex and nudity are a normal part of life that have to be included in some form in theatre.
When I see a character on stage taking drugs ( prop ones), I as an audience member and as a reviewer, realise this is part of the plot. Even though this character taking drugs is integral to the plot and how their life has descended in to something quite bleak, there would have been more distaste for this characters cosumption of illegal substances. There will still be inevitably an uneasiness from certain audience members, but I feel gritty plot devices are honoured more by the audience in recent times, who realise they are not condoning something simply by watching a piece of theatre.
Theatre is ultimately where stories are told and feelings are expressed. This setting is where an audience have chosen to come and watch that particular piece of theatre. If something is extremley offensive to them or they find distasteful they are free to leave the theatre although the price of the ticket they have bought could hinder that decision. In the same way, if someone is doing something in the street such as preaching beliefs you do not agree with you do not have to listen you can walk away.
The word taboo I believe is still not a word that exists in the theatrical dictionary. Audiences will always have differing opinions on certain subjects, but isn’t this what makes theatre so exciting?