It’s hard to say what Victorian author Lewis Carroll would have made of a new play inspired by Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland showing in Beijing this month – but The Rabbit Hole’s author, a 26-year-old who goes by the pseudonym of Chen San, says she wants her audience to be shocked.
‘It’s not a normal story, it’s subversive,’ she says, while slurping on a plate of bolognese. ‘It will shock you.’
But this play is not about coming out, it’s about real lesbian lives – ‘What we think, what we feel’ – and for Chen, who works for a finance and administration NGO, it’s important to keep opening doors to the general public and to show them her community.
Chen was drawn to Alice because ‘She’s a character that’s always wondering. She’s curious about her world… and in the book she’s always running from something. In the end, she runs away from Wonderland.’
Rabbit Hole’s key protagonist is also called Alice. Distraught by a recent break-up, she keeps wondering what happened to their love. Her best friend, White, tells her she can help her find the answers, taking her to a bar called – you guessed it –The Rabbit Hole. There, just as Carroll’s Alice watched a series of fantastical events unfold before her incredulous eyes, lesbian Alice sits on the sidelines and watches three surreal stories take place in the bar. By the time she leaves, she’s got her answers, though Chen is keeping mum on what they are. ‘Come and see the play,’ she laughs.
With the title Rabbit Hole, perhaps the key question is: is there any sex? Chen explains that there are no outright erotic scenes, but sex is discussed, albeit not explicitly. For example, the first bar tableau witnessed by Alice involves a woman fretting she has been made pregnant by her girlfriend.
The production is run by LES+, China’s only lesbian print magazine (in Mandarin), launched at the end of 2005 and published once every three months. LES+ has been edited by Chen since 2008 and copies (12RMB) can be obtained from Taobao or gay-friendly venues across town, including the Beijing LGBT Center. A team of volunteers across China – ‘We’re in 33 provinces,’ says Chen proudly – help sell the magazine outside Beijing. Naturally each issue carries a theme: ‘Our best-selling edition was, of course, about sex.’
This isn’t the first time a lesbian play has been put on in Beijing. Two years ago, LES+ performed The Tower of Joy and Sorrow at Chaoyang Theatre, which discussed coming-out issues and how love changes in long-term lesbian relationships. The success of that inspired Chen to write her own play. They are keen to attract a full house, but Chen thinks success is guaranteed: ‘If we just stand up there on that stage then we win, because no one else in Beijing is putting on a lesbian play.’
As with LES+, everyone involved in The Rabbit Hole is a volunteer. ‘We’ve been rehearsing for four months,’ says Chen. They have polished the performances by inviting an experienced director to oversee some of the training, while the play’s director is a professional actress who has helped in training the girls, she adds.
The Rabbit Hole boasts music, songs and video – it’s a multimedia production and the theatre will be converted into a bar for the performance. ‘We want you to step into the play,’ says Chen, ‘and fall down the rabbit hole.’