Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Wonderland: Alice's Story

Strip away the parallel story of John, husband and consumer of violent pornography. Strip away the mundane villainy of the Eastern European pornographer. Strip  away the uneasy allusions to Lewis Carroll.

Strip away Kai Fisher's set. Strip away Matthew Lenton's skillful manipulation of reality and fantasy. Strip away the condemnation of bourgeois dishonesty. And strip away the introduction that describes reality as a series of rooms, each one darker.

Be left with Alice's story. Alice comes from a safe family. By the start of Wonderland, she is ready to act in hardcore, violent pornography. It's never clear what has led her to this point: her clothes do not suggest poverty, her manner is not redolent of abuse. Of course, in real life, these things are hidden. But theatre has the option of making them present. Wonderland chooses not to.

First scene: Alice is interviewed twice. Once as herself, once as Heidi, her porn persona. At various points in Wonderland, her projected face looms above the set. She whispers that she is frightened, that she fears that she is going to be killed. A knife is pulled on her throat.

She runs screaming from the filming, followed by her co-star. She is Alice again, not Heidi. She asserts herself, then returns to the film.

Following a spot of surrealism, the climax: Heidi is murdered. Symbolically, the murder is not enacted by her co-star but John, the viewer and her father. Then, she performs her exit interview, wiping the blood from her face, affirming that she gave consent to the filming. She is paid, she leaves. Her intention is to come back, for something more spectacular.

Alice is not a victim: even the pornographer wants to make sure she knows what she is getting into. Alice walks away from the set, cash in pocket. It is as if she has not been harmed. Wonderland tools about with fantasy and reality throughout - the murder appears real, John's blood might be a metaphor - but concludes with reality asserting itself.

It's difficult to see how Alice has been damaged by her experience. Of course, it can be assumed that she is damaged in the first place, or that she ended up getting into the ugly business at the end of a series of bad encounters.

That John is both the consumer of her product and her father might allude to a history of child abuse, but it feels more likely that Vanishing Point are using this amalgamation to make a broader point about how every porn actress is somebody's daughter.

The moment when the pornographer asks her about money hints at poverty. But these are mere suggestions, and need to be imposed on the performance.

Alice provides the most shocking moments: her original interview is degrading and uncomfortable to watch. Her murder is brutal. It might be her calling her mother. Her mother refuses her. Jenny Hulse convinces as both lively woman, degraded woman and corpse. Yet because she moves between these characters with such ease, Alice is impossible to grasp. The other characters have clear narratives - the pornographer is a little too stereotypical, her co-star is a hunk with a cock, John destroys his piece of mind. Alice just remains.

She is just a series of surfaces and projections, metaphorically and literally.

Strip away the backstory. Strip away her family relationships. Strip away a boyfriend, a life outside the studio.

Strip  away the compassion. Strip away her self-awareness. Strip away any knowledge of how the film is going to be used. Strip away everything.

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