Written By David Ives
Directed by Caroline Stacey
The Street Theatre to 2 September
Reviewed by Len Power 22 August 2018
‘You don’t have to tell me about sado-masochism. I’m in the theatre’, says one of the characters in the play ‘Venus in Fur’. David Ives’ tricky play-within-a-play is an adaptation of the 1870 novel ‘Venus in Furs’ by the Austrian author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. The content of the novel inspired psychiatrist Krafft-Ebbing to coin the term ‘masochism’ in 1886 in his book, ‘Psychopathia Sexualis’, one of the first texts about sexual pathology.
In the play, the adapter of the ‘Venus In Furs’ novel, writer-director, Thomas Novachek, is having difficulty casting the role of the aristocratic lead character, Wanda von Dunayev. During a fierce thunderstorm, an actress, Vanda Jordan, bursts in and demands to audition for the role. She seems an unlikely possibility for the part, but Novachek reluctantly agrees to read the role of Severin von Kushemski with her. For an auditionee, the actress seems to have a strangely strong grasp of the character and the lines of the play already. An intriguing cat-and-mouse game of theatre, sexual politics and revelations begins.
The director, Caroline Stacey, has produced a fine production of this internationally popular play that was first produced off-Broadway in 2010. A spectacular and detailed set by Imogen Keen represents what is probably the backstage area of a theatre. Verity Hampson’s intricate lighting design and Kyle Sheedy’s haunting sound design both help to create a compelling atmosphere for this play where all may not be what it seems.
|Craig Alexander and Joanna Richards|
Both actors, Craig Alexander and Joanna Richards, enact the sexual games of the play with intensity, courage and believability. Joanna Richards impresses with the roughness of the auditioning actress and the refinement of her period character and her ability to swiftly change between them. Craig Alexander gives strong performances as both the exasperated director and his period character and plays the gradual loss of control very well.
|Joanna Richards and Craig Alexander|
Caroline Stacey keeps the play moving at a good pace and has achieved fine, in-depth performances from her two actors. There were moments when the dialogue was not as clear as it should have been, especially when the characters, speaking with accents, were required to talk softly or when they were turned away from the audience.
This is an intensely entertaining and, at times, funny adult play that has a lot to say about period and contemporary sexual politics. The twists and turns of the plot will have you guessing right up until the end.
Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast in his ‘On Stage’ performing arts radio program on Mondays and Wednesdays from 3.30pm on Artsound FM 92.7.