Thursday, 19 October 2017

Review Venus In Fur

Game Of Thrones' star Natalie Dormer impresses Francis Beckett, catches the zeitgeist, but turns out to be less than the sum of its parts.

Venus in Fur
By David Ives 

Of Human Bondage

Sometimes timing dictates what your play is about.

Harvey Weinstein was just another Hollywood film mogul when several years ago David Ives sat down to write Venus in Fur. In his play a theatre director,  who rather despises the actresses he hires or declines to hire, gets his comeuppance.

That, at least, because no play is an island, is what Venus in Fur is about right now and what the zeitgeist demands in late October 2017.

However I suspect that was not the original subject of the play Mr Ives wrote.  I think it had much more to do with sexual fetishes, sado-masochism, and the strange things they do to the brain.

Never mind. It’s the Weinstein affair, and the consequent pleasure of seeing an actress turn the tables on a male director, which will have theatregoers flocking to the Haymarket.

In addition, perhaps attraction will be the not totally unpleasant sight of Game Of Throne's Natalie Dormer’s shapely legs protruding from S&M outfits.

In Ives's two-hander comedy drrama, New York writer and theatre director Thomas (David Oakes) has had a long day failing to cast the main female part for his adaptation of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s 19th century novella.

The word masochism is coined from the author's name. The book is about a woman who makes a man her slave urged on by the man who wants to be enslaved.

Thomas is just packing up to go home when Vanda (Natalie Dormer) walks in, persuades him to hear her read for the part and turns out to know most of the lines.

He is in charge at the start, for he has a wonderful part to bestow on some lucky actress.  But slowly Vanda persuades Thomas to act out in real life the relationship she has read about in his play, to become her slave. What starts as a reading merges into role-play.

It’s a clever, witty play with a lot of blunt but resonant one-liners, like “Working in the theatre is the world’s greatest way to get laid”.

Patrick Marber, for my money Britain’s best contemporary playwright, directs with a sure touch and there is a splendidly detailed realistic set from Rob Howell.

As the director Thomas, David Oakes is extremely competent, but most of the time he’s simply a foil for a stunning virtuoso performance from Natalie Dormer as Vanda, at once a monster and an avenging angel.

So, a thoroughly engaging 90 minutes in the theatre (straight through, no interval). However, in the end, I wanted a bit more.

I didn’t care quite enough what happened to either character. Truth to tell, not quite enough did happen and Thomas’s swift capitulation strained the suspension of disbelief. So it's almost full marks; but in the end only an amber/green light.

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