Any mention of feminism in Malta is often met with strong opinion: some are staunchly in favour of it, some are dismissive, while others think we’ve progressed beyond the need for it. But the ails of the patriarchy are alive and kicking, and one local production is looking to bring the conversation front and centre.
A new DIY project by Teatru Malta for this year’s Ziguzajg festival pushes us to consider difficult realities faced by the so-called second sex.
Alice in Wonderlessland, based on the iconic 1976 feminist monologue by Franca Rome and Dario Fo, has been reconfigured for the Maltese context – led by Sean Buhagiar and a wealth of local talent, including an eerie ode to femininity by Alex Alden, production design by Francesca Mercieca and voice narration by Mariele Zammit.
The result is a mesmerising journey of female struggle, drawn from a reconstructed childhood-fairytale-turned sour.
We follow Alice as she falls down a different kind of rabbit hole, meandering ideas of sexual freedom, the pressures of performative gender roles, abuse and claustrophobic feminine ideals.
All those amusing childhood characters aren’t as sweet as we remember. Now that the fairy tale has taken on such mysterious and threatening overtones; the monkey, the rabbit, the pig are all seen as filthy creatures.
The DIY structure forces you to participate in the unsettling journey.
The audience is expected to play a role in the jarring adventure, as we all do by indirectly or directly upholding patriarchal power structures every day.
It all starts with a large box. Inside, there is a doll, two sets of cards in black and white, instructions and a bunny-shaped pendrive.
Everyone in the audience must take a card, while the instructions call for someone dressed in white to take on the role of the doll-bearer and stand in front of the projector, back to the audience, while the film rolls.
Each card has a line uttered by Alice or another character in the video and asks the cardholder to act out an action upon that cue. The result is a commotion in the audience, and forces the watcher to maintain full attention, something difficult in today’s world of ample distraction.
Alice In Wonderlessland is self-explanatory.
We follow a dream-like world in which Alice is confronted with oppressive extremities forced upon women in capitalism – don’t dress provocatively, you’re only asking for trouble, a woman’s voice tells Alice in the beginning.
Alice, take your clothes off, you must show skin to be sexually liberated and therefore feminist, the malicious rabbit tells her, stripping her naked for the sake of an “erotic film”.
Even nature looks to corrupt her.
Towards the end, she is saved from predator trees by a knight in shining armour, who then exploits her himself, tossing her in a factory for feminine ideals.
The performance, while intentionally made for students in Malta over 14, is bold, explicit, political and an important watch for all ages in Malta. In a country where gender-based violence is a deep crisis, feminist discourse is as needed as ever.
The lingering question is whether schools will be willing to show the work to their students.
Some are concerned about the message it could give off for men watching, in perpetrating abuse and stereotypes. But with good preparation and dialogue, it could play an essential role in talking about women’s place in Malta and beyond.
Live shows of Alice Wonderlessland will be held on Saturday 5th December and Sunday 6th December. For more information and booking details head over to Teatru Malta’s page.
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