Strong, emotive performances are the hallmark of Venus in Fur. This sado-masochistic two-hander is brim full of verbiage. It’s a play within a play, during which the power shifts.
New York theatre director Thomas (Darcy Kent) is trying to cast the lead female role for a play. It’s a play he’s adapted from the 19th century book Venus in Furs by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (whose name became the eponym for masochism). Thomas has seen 30-something performers and none has made a great impression. He’s ready to call it quits for the day when Vanda (Tilly Legge) appears. She’s late and harried, crude and brazen – a whirlwind of energy.
She’ll stop at nothing to land the part, but Thomas simply wants to get rid of her and put this bad day behind him. Nevertheless, she persists and the director finds himself backed into a corner. Amazingly, when she starts to act, she is transformed into the essence of the character Thomas is trying to nail. Not only has she brought along the right props and costumes, but she understands the character (whose name she shares) intimately. She knows all her lines by heart. The “audition” lengthens and intensifies, and Thomas’ attraction starts to develop into an obsession. The question is who is really pulling the strings?
Tilly Legge (Bombshells for Lil’ Frenchy Legs) makes an extremely powerful Vanda, switching personas convincingly and holding not only Thomas, but the audience in the palm of her hand. Her leather costume (the costume and set designer is Dann Barber) is impossible to ignore and certainly adds appropriate spice to the role. Darcy Kent (desert 6:29pm for Red Stitch) displays the excitement and adoration his character calls for.
The set is kept to a bare minimum. But the words and how they’re delivered figuratively, as well as literally, do most of the talking.
It’s hard not to be impressed. The crowd I saw it with were effusive in their praise, indicated by a standing ovation. Director Kirsten von Bibra has done a fine job directing David Ives’ smart exploration of sexual politics, gender and power. Head to fortyfivedownstairs, where Venus In Fur is playing until 24 March 2018, to see what all the fuss is about.
Other reviews you might enjoy:
- Mr Burns, A Post-Electric Play (Lightning Jar Theatre) – theatre review
- Escaped Alone (Red Stitch) – theatre review
- Fierce (Theatre Works) – theatre review
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television