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Wonderland - Vanishing Point Jump In


When Vanishing Point artistic director Matthew Lenton spoke out 
regarding arts funding body Creative Scotland's ill-thought out plans 
that put the future of some forty-nine major organisations in jeopardy, 
he was echoing the thoughts of everyone in the arts community who the 
bureaucrats in Waverleygate are accountable to. The fact that Lenton 
had the vocal support of National Theatre of Scotland head Vicky 
Featherstone should make those same bureaucrats take serious notice. As 
Lenton prepares for Wonderland, his contribution to Edinburgh 
International Festival's theatre programme, it is clear that Vanishing 
Point are a major international force, and their loss to Scotland would 
be unforgivable.

Back in June, however, long before Lenton broke cover, he was getting 
lost in an even darker mire than even the lower depths of Creative 
Scotland could muster. On a big screen in a large Glasgow rehearsal 
room, a live feed of a young woman's face can be seen in close-up to a 
mood music soundtrack. In front of the screen, the real woman, in the 
flesh and in living colour, is dwarfed by the black and white image 
behind her.

On-screen, without any context, the woman's facial expression is blank, 
and hard to read. As she removes her cardigan, her eyes widen with 
fear. It's only because we see two men moving towards her off-screen 
that it becomes clear what's causing the woman's anxiety. One man is 
carrying a knife, the other, a video camera, which, as we can see 
on-screen, zooms in even more on the woman's face. The woman is on her 
knees now, pleading for her life, before stabbing herself repeatedly, 
although only her face is seen on-screen.

All the while the scene above is played out, a man's voice is telling 
the woman what to do, controlling her every action on stage and screen 
while a camera and some carefully chosen music mediate how it's 
interpreted. Another man, dressed in a rabbit suit, watches the scene 
through a wall of glass, weeping into his hands at its denouement, 
adding yet another layer of voyeurism to what looks like some kind of 
snuff movie set-up. In actual fact, the woman and the men are all 
actors, while the voice telling them what to do belongs to Lenton who 
is directing what is ostensibly a reimagining of Lewis Carroll's Alice 
in Wonderland, but is actually a look at how far you can go in the 
twenty-first century porn industry.

“This has been the hardest thing I've ever done,” the director of 
international collaborations Interiors and Saturday Night admits of 
Vanishing Point's new show. “The subject matter's so difficult in every 
way, because it's so massive.. I was thinking that maybe the only way 
to tell a story about pornography from either side, either as a voyeur 
or user, or as someone who's involved in it is to do something 
verbatim, and have different people talking about it, but that's not 
something I'm interested in doing.

“Everyone's got such different views of pornography. First of all, it 
divides the sexes in a very general sense, whether it's good or bad or 
healthy or not, or sinister or not. One person might find something 
really disturbing, then someone else might just think there's nothing 
wrong with it, and see it as just a fantasy. So it's very hard to find 
a centre-point for a story that elicits a mutual vocabulary for an 
audience. We're trying to look at the two different experiences 
essentially, with a woman who gets into the porn industry, and a man 
who gets more and more drawn into what is I suppose the more extreme 
stuff online.

“One of the themes that interested me most in the whole thing isn't the 
porn industry itself. It's the idea of somehow taking enjoyment in the 
pain and suffering of other people, and at what point something that is 
complicit becomes not complicit. At what point, as a voyeur of 
something, do you have to say that this person doesn't look like 
they're enjoying themselves, so you're going to stop watching it? The 
responsibility of you as the viewer has really interested me. There's 
also the thing about why someone who works in porn wants to continue 
doing it, at cost, arguably, to themselves. Those are the things that I 
find really fascinating, rich and complex, and to try and distil those 
things into a story is really difficult.

“Just the other day we had a stagger through of what we've done, and 
Kai [Fischer, Vanishing Point's regular designer] said he didn't 
understand why anyone does anything in the story, but, while the 
obvious answer is money and supply and demand, that's kind of the 
point. If you look at some of the things people do in the porn 
industry, beyond money, it isn't clear why people do them. There's a 
really interesting relationship between porn and supply and demand. 
We've obviously had to have some pretty frank conversations doing this 
show, and one of the things we've discovered is how surprised people 
have been by some of the things they've watched. Whether it's for 
sexual gratification or out of sheer amazement, there's been a feeling 
of, well, how did I get here? The internet is a portal that's in 
everybody's lives, and you have to decide how you use it.”

Wonderland has been a long time coming. Some two years in development, 
the production's international collaborators have proved crucial to it 
getting onstage. As well as EIF,  from Scotland, Tramway, Glasgow and 
Eden Court Theatre in Inverness are on board, while from Italy, the 
company is supported by both Fondazione Campania dei Festival and 
Napoli Teatro Festival Italia.

One of the starting points for Lenton's dramatic inquiry was Hardcore, 
a TV documentary made in 2000 by Stephen Walker. Hardcore followed a 
young British woman named Felicity's travails in attempting to break 
into the American porn industry. During Felicity's quest, she is taken 
to the home of a man named Max Hardcore. As his name suggests, 
Hardcore, nee Paul F Little, was a producer and director of porn films, 
who frequently appeared in his own work. What set Hardcore/Little apart 
 from many other purveyors of his oeuvre is his penchant for working 
with very young women, who gave the impression of being under-age, both 
in the way they dressed and behaves. Hardcore would then appear with 
the women on camera, where extreme acts, including urinating and 
vomiting, would take place.

In the documentary, while Felicity initially goes into things 
willingly, the situation turns ugly, with Hardcore resorting to what 
looks like psychological abuse in his attempts to get Felicity to do 
things she doesn't want to. Significantly, it is the documentary crew, 
rather than Felicity herself, who take responsibility for closing down 
filming and removing her from Hardcore's care, if that is in any way an 
appropriate word here. In 2007, after being raided by the FBI in 
incidents un-connected with Walker's film, Little was imprisoned on 
obscenity charges. The porn industry, meanwhile, is both more 
accessible and acceptable than it ever was.

“Pornography has seriously influenced popular culture,” observes 
Lenton. “Before there was reality TV, there was reality porn. Before 
there were films like The Blair Witch Project and all these things with 
hand-held cameras, there was gonzo porn. So in one way pornography is a 
pioneer. Porno films used to have story-lines, albeit clichéd ones 
about the plumber who used to come and fix your pipes or whatever. Now 
the emphasis is on reality, and that's fascinating as well, asking at 
what point does fiction become reality.

“Norman Mailer said in the 1970s when he was talking about Deep Throat, 
that when you indulge in extreme sex, and he wasn't saying it's good 
for you, and wasn't saying it's bad for you, he was just saying that 
you enter  the mystery. I think it's a mystery that enters a lot of 
people's lives because of the internet. If you're so inclined, you can 
go to places you wouldn't go to normally.”

As a director too, Lenton recognises the contradictions of telling 
people how far they should go onstage. Keen to avoid self-censorship as 
well as being judgmental, he's also aware that what he's dealing with 
is a long way from the now relatively quaint-looking Deep Throat.

“As a male director, you've got to be careful,” he says, but, actually, 
you've also got to be careful not to be careful about whether you're 
being misogynist or depicting incidents of misogyny.”

As for Max Hardcore, after being released from prison in 2011, the 
fifty-five year old has gone back into the porn industry, and, in a 
filmed interview at the Adult Entertainment Expo 2012,  is unrepentant 
about what he sees as being prosecuted over something that goes on 
between consenting adults.

“What a lot of people don't realise is that a lot of girls like it 
rough....” he says. “...That's what they're begging for...”

The heavily tattooed young lady revelling in the name of Bonnie Rotten 
who drapes herself around him later in the interview concurs.

“Consensual rape,” Bonnie says, beaming up at Hardcore. “That's what I 
love.”

Wonderland, Royal Lyceum Theatre, August 29th-September 1st, 7.30pm
www.eif.co.uk
The Herald, August 18th 2012

ends

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