Playwright Anthony Neilson has warned that social media can have a “dangerous” impact on the way theatre is received, arguing that it can be used to misinterpret a play’s intentions.
The Scottish writer said the “capacity to be misunderstood has grown exponentially” because of media such as Twitter, and it has become easy to “weaponise social media to deliberately misunderstand a person”.
“The whole idea that you have a medium that is based on rapid response, and yet has lack of nuance built into its form, is very difficult, and is leading to a very binary culture, which I think makes it difficult to be truthful in art. I think that for a writer, you have to be constantly aware of how unbinary and complex every issue is, so the loss of nuance generally I think is quite dangerous,” Neilson said.
He was speaking as part of a panel on censorship in theatre at the Royal Court in London, where he has staged plays including 2016’s Unreachable and The Prudes, which ran earlier this year and is about relationships and the current sexual climate.
Discussing the play, Neilson said its premiere in April amid the spread of the #MeToo movement had forced him to “wobble” about some of the themes because of a fear they might be misconstrued.
He said: “It wasn’t a play about [#MeToo] but I wanted that to be part of the mix, and I realised mine was going to be one of the first [post-#MeToo], and it’s by a middle-aged man. I thought: ‘I’m going to get some shit for this.’ It did lead to me wobbling a bit in a way that I don’t normally about things.”
Neilson added that it did not lead him to remove or alter the play, but remarked that the way it might be reported by audiences on social media meant that his words could be susceptible to “unwitting or deliberate misunderstanding”.