Age ratings for theatre

This idea occurred to me recently and I think it has a lot going for it, for the following reasons:


– Actual guidance for parents on how age-appropriate shows are.

Not so much because ‘I ACCIDENTALLY TOOK MY 5 YEAR-OLD TO SEE BLASTED AND WON’T SOMEONE THINK OF THE CHILDREN’ as because it’ll prevent you taking your 5 year-old to see The Coast of Utopia and getting furious at all the fidgeting.


– Theatre attains real-world context.

Movies have age ratings. Video games have age ratings. By extension you could include TVs’ ongoing 9pm watershed. All these are part of (and indeed shape) popular culture, and many people find them useful when formulating opinions about whether to go and see them. A rating in itself does neither movies nor video games any harm, nor does it hurt a TV show to on after 9pm – I’d argue that it frames their themes and imagery within a generalised idea of what the viewers’ feelings and opinions might be. Whether you necessarily agree with any given rating is irrelevant – it helps you work out what you feel about it in the same way that trailers and interviews do. I think that without this, theatre looks like ‘high’ art that only smart people will really understand because it’s sooooo complex. This isn’t helpful.


– Theatre looks cool.

I suggest that there is no more effective way of getting people under 18 to see your show than ensuring it’s rated 18. *This* is how accessibility actually works, not making it an accepted, ‘improving’ educational activity. Anyone who says ‘we’ll be getting the wrong type of under-18s coming to see theatre’ is hilariously unaware of the extent to which they are part of the problem.


– It doesn’t need a board of classification.

I think such ratings should be set be the producers rather than a revived Lord Chamberlain’s Office, especially since any given revival of a play might be more or less ‘adult’ then another. Also, no one should police it any more than they do right now. This could be some sort of handy ACE performance indicator too, perhaps, in terms of the work being produced?


This is just a thought – open to take-downs, improvements or acclamation. What do you reckon?

4 Replies to “Age ratings for theatre”

  1. This isn’t a new idea, in fact most theatres operate age ratings, you just don’t always see them. Having worked with numerous venues over the years, including venues that work solely within children’s or young people’s work, age restrictions are very common. If you look at most print it should state ‘Suitable for ages X’, that’s pretty common practice.

    I guess what you’re after is non-children’s/young people’s work being clarified? In that case it is normally shows that have a certain level of blood, horror or disembodiment that gets an age rating. I believe The Lyric, Hammersmith did quite well with their marketing for Ghost Stories, advising those who easily faint not to attend etc…

    Theatre is cool, but we could be cooler.

    1. Thanks Jake. I knew that a lot of particularly gory shows had ‘advisory’ notices like this. I just wondered whether a less ‘scattergun’ approach would be of benefit.

      I also knew of and like the way that children’s theatres put a lot of thought into classifying by age group. It seemed to me the kind of thing that had application beyond childrens/young people’s theatre – i.e. treating all theatre productions as something that ‘young people’ might notionally go to.

      1. I think what is at the heart of what you’re trying to explore is how we can promote theatre to young people without it being stuffy. Age ratings for movies and theme park experiences, even clubs etc give an ‘edge’ to young people attending them. There’s a level of risk involved because someone has classified it as only suitable for certain ages.

        Could theatre replicate this? I’m not sure, or rather, I don’t think that’s the problem we have. What we need to do is tackle the theatre first, and worry about how to market it afterwards…

  2. Yes, perfectly good point. I just think that a lot of theatre is already more interesting and accessible than the marketing makes it sound and that this is a thing that can be overlooked.

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