THEATRE Alanna Maclean
Venus in Fur by David Ives. Directed by Caroline Stacey. The Street Theatre. Until Sunday September 2. Bookings 6247 1223 or www.thestreet.org.au
A man and a woman clash dramatically in David Ives’ 2010 play Venus in Fur.
Thomas Novachek (Craig Alexander) has written a play based on the 19th century novel Venus in Furs by Leopold von Sacher–Masoch, he whose name gave rise to the term ‘masochism’. Thomas intends also to direct it but auditions for the leading female character are not going well. When Vanda (Joanna Richards) arrives, breathless, swearing and late, the audition process appears to be in real trouble.
But when this brash and seemingly uneducated woman takes to the sophisticated role in 'the play within a play' with style and panache, Thomas is progressively taken aback. The lines between audition, rehearsal, performance and reality become entertainingly unclear as battle commences.
Director Caroline Stacey keeps the touch light in what is really a slightly old-fashioned two hander. There’s nothing altogether new about this ‘battle of the sexes’ and, despite the source material, not a great deal in the way of surprises, especially if you know something of Greek myth and drama.
Alexander and Richards go at it with style and energy. Alexander’s Thomas is initially a brash and controlling playwright/director, quickly pushed to reconsider his opinion of Vanda and his approach to an audition that soon becomes a rehearsal and then slides into performance.
As Vanda, Richards is strongly adept at the changes of accent and persona and deals very well with the character’s growth in power. Their teamwork is excellent and they handle the frequent changes of mood with aplomb.
The production has been treated to a particularly splendid set by Imogen Keen. It makes full use of the Street One’s stage height and is entered via a metal staircase that goes nearly all the way up to the top. That makes for a spectacular first entrance by Vanda into Thomas’ spare industrial basement of an office. There’s a bit of a sightline problem for some audience with a tall pillar that is there because it is crucial to a couple of moments in the script but the space created is a grand one. The lighting design by Verity Hampson augments it with great sensitivity and mood and Kyle Sheedy’s sound is especially good in the thunder sequences.
Venus in Fur certainly has adult elements in its discussion of sexuality and gender politics and an element of some of the more brutal parts of Greek drama creeps in. There’s also more than a moment of sheer fantasy as Vanda’s possible identity becomes more clear. But it also owes something to the tradition of debate in Pygmalion and Educating Rita.
Venus in Fur is not as shocking as it thinks it is, but The Street’s production is clearly one that audiences will respond to if the first night is anything to go by.