Wonderland from Vanishing Point theatre deals in pornography and voyeurism
A new show from Glasgow theatre company set for UK run
Mark Fisher flies to Italy to find Glasgow’s Vanishing Point raising the Neapolitan temperature with Wonderland
The summer streets of Naples are sweltering hot, but behind closed doors in the Teatro Sannazaro, things are getting positively steamy. Glasgow’s Vanishing Point is in town and the company is putting on stage the kind of sexual fantasies that really should stay private. The message to audiences in the Naples Theatre Festival is plain: this evening’s performance of Wonderland is ‘solo pubblico adulto’.
Just because the title of this world premiere is a nod to Lewis Carroll, doesn’t mean there’s anything whimsical about it. Never mind children, there are grown-ups who will find the content too hot to handle.
The Alice who has fallen down this particular rabbit hole goes by the name of Heidi. She likes to play the role of little-girl-lost as she stars in sadomasochistic movies. Following her into her wonderland of addictive internet porn is John, an everyday guy in a regular relationship who, hiding behind the anonymity of an online user-name, develops a voracious appetite for scenes of violent and degrading sex. The further his chat-room companion agrees to go for him, the greater his desire to inflict even worse indignity on her.
By this stage, the connection to Carroll is tangential – except in the sense that everything is out of proportion and all bearings are lost.
‘It’s the hardest show I’ve ever made by far, because the subject matter is so hard,’ says director Matthew Lenton. ‘On a basic level, men and women have different views about it. What for one person is a dark and fucked-up fantasy is, for another person, very normal and mild. It’s also a subject that’s hard to find a poetical way of approaching. It’s hard to find beauty in it.’
All this sounds like a dramatic jump from Vanishing Point’s last two shows, Interiors and Saturday Night. Thanks to an innovative technique involving the actors performing behind a transparent screen, these tremendous shows created wry portraits of characters we could see but not hear. Presented as a kind of silent comedy of manners, they gave us permission to peer through the front window of other people’s lives. They were touching and subtle, and had none of the direct assault of Wonderland.
There is a connection, however, and not only because Lenton shows the same taste in surreal visual motifs and, in certain scenes, makes use of the same silent-acting method. It’s also because Wonderland takes the voyeurism of Interiors and Saturday Night and follows it to its logical conclusion. ‘Who watches this stuff?’ asks one character. ‘Look out there,’ answers another, pointing to the auditorium, where we are voyeuristically watching John as he voyeuristically watches pornography.
‘For me, it’s about two things,’ says Lenton. ‘It’s about how and why people use the internet, especially pornography on the internet, and pornography that’s becoming more and more extreme. It’s about how someone can live at home with their family and they can go next door and enter extreme places, then they can come back and sit around that table again, but their mind has been somewhere. That’s something that’s new that couldn’t have happened 20 years ago.
‘I’m also interested in what it is that makes someone want to make that kind of pornography – what it is that opens the doors to those places. One really easy answer is money, but the other answer is nobody knows. What I wanted to avoid doing was to explain it by saying it’s all to do with a difficult relationship that somebody had with their father when they were a child.’
In turn, this led to the company considering the difference between watching real suffering and ‘complicit’ suffering, plus the question of consent and control among those being filmed. All of which made rehearsals particularly gruelling. ‘It was a really hard space to have your head for a period of time,’ he says. ‘We had our second child during the process, so I was working on this stuff during the day and going home and holding my baby. And directing actors, you find yourself in the same position as a porno director when you’re thinking about how far will these actors push their limits. Everyone found it very difficult.’
It’s confrontational stuff but, for Naples Theatre Festival director Luca De Fusco, programming Vanishing Point is a way of broadening the range of theatre his audience can see. ‘When I saw Interiors, I was astonished by the multicultural mixture in the cast and the new and original lack of words,’ he says. ‘Actually, in this performance Matthew Lenton uses words, and that’s part of the evolution of a director’s style. We could get stuck in time here by using Naples’ 1000-year theatrical tradition, but what I want is to create a new wave, combining the roots of Neapolitan theatre with international theatre to create a new identity and a new way to do theatre.’
Wonderland, Royal Lyceum, 473 2000, 29 Aug–1 Sep, 7.30pm, £10-£30.