Friday, September 28, 2012

"Wonderland" - September 2012

"Wonderland will be a dark, mysterious and magical new show" says the Vanishing Point website of their show that take an audience into the world of pornography.  And they are right - if perhaps not always as intended. The violence and nudity certainly qualifies it as 'dark', but I found it 'mysterious' to a point beyond confusing - bordering on frustrating.  And 'magical' - well, yes, in a Paul Daniels kind of way: I liked it, not a lot, but I liked it.

There's a place for leaving things open to interpretation and it can help ensure an audience actively thinks about a piece, but often there's a price to be paid in a resulting disconnection between audience and character. Wonderland's apparent non-linear timeframe, uncertain locations and the way its central character shifts between her Alice/Heidi personas (at times without clear signposts) left me so unsure as to the blurred lines between the in-show fiction and in-show reality that I was no longer willing to invest emotionally in Alice's fate for fear of being 'tricked'.

In Vanishing Point's previous productions "Interiors" and "Saturday Night", watching conversations take place silently behind 'glass' added another layer to the shows.  But despite the voyeuristic aspect being more pertinent to "Wonderland", it seemed to detract rather than add on the occasions it's used here. While I could certainly get the general drift of the conversations between Alice's parents, I was always grasping for the details and never quite getting them.  And my inability to decipher the final conversation between Alice and her father left me feeling simultaneously cheated and inadequate as an audience member.  Is it too clever for its own good - or just too clever for me?

An odd choice of starting point doesn't help the show either.  Why and how Alice came to be auditioning to join the pornographic industry is unclear - and is potentially the most interesting aspect. Similarly, how did her father find himself drawn into the darker side of the internet? Without seeing the seeds of their 'downfalls' the show lacks much of the 'this could happen to you' element common to most morality based fairy tales (or modern urban myths). 

"Wonderland" is at its best when highlighting the power balance between exploited and exploitee. Who really has the power?  Who is left feeling ashamed of their actions?  But my inability to settle on a 'real' version of events left even this up in the air.   "Wonderland" feels like a show with something to say - but I couldn't hear or understand it.

Wonderland is a co-production with Fondazione Campania dei Festival - Napoli teatro Festival Italia and Tramway in association with Eden Court.  It runs at Tramway until 29 September.
Image by Francesco Squeglia used with permission.