As a famous theatre practitioner once said; ‘Some things happen in theatre that need to be looked at, that might not be, in my opinion, ethically correct.’ You would be forgiven for not recognising this quote. The theatre practitioner in question is Tim Crouch, an English playwright and performer, while ‘once’ here means a podcast in 2009 about his play The Author. Crouch believes that plays should still be considered part of real life and that what we choose to show on stage should be examined to make sure that its contents conforms to the same moral code that we expect in real life.
I’ll admit that the first time I heard this quote I was sceptical. I had recently seen Cora Bisset’s production of Roadkill, the award winning play on sex trafficking, which features no less than three counts of rape on a 14 year old girl with many more incidents discussed. The play’s graphic nature was justified both by the fact that it was based on real life events and its success at helping us understand the world that these girls live in, in other words; the plays explicit content comes secondary to story and themes.
Then I saw Wonderland.
Created by Vanishing Point Theatre Company for the Edinburgh International Festival, the play is, as the title suggests, a retelling of Alice in Wonderland. This version however is a little darker than the original, telling of the dark world of pornography and voyeurism. As a production, the piece was brilliant. The acting was great, the set was clever, the sound was well designed and the costumes looked authentic.
The only problem with the play was its content. Wonderland, being about the creation of pornography, features full nudity on the stage. Now normally I wouldn’t even mind nudity on stage, but when that nudity is used to try to emulate porn on stage, a rape porn no less, things start getting awkward. There is a very fine line between a play about pornography and pornography itself and this play very nearly crosses that line.
Wonderland is too focused on creating a mood and atmosphere to truly explore the world of pornography to any depth. At the end of the play, after being pushed beyond her limits, the girl agrees to return to act in another film. This seems to imply the idea that humans enjoy being pushed to do things outside their comfort zone but as this “protagonist” is the only actor we really meet in the porn industry we have nothing else to compare her with and no real explanation as to why she decides to return.
Not having any characters to identify with also has a negative impact on the rest of show. We, as the audience, feel alienated from the action and the emotional responses of the characters. Because the characters are so inaccessible, we can’t even use them to decipher any hidden meanings the show may contain
It feels to me like Wonderland has taken the opposite approach to Roadkill on similar issues. Where Roadkill allows the story to take precedence, Wonderland lets its theatricality run away from it, leaving a well made performance, but one which left me feeling rather empty and a little disgusted.
Image: Francesco Squeglia