SHOW: Venus In Fur
DIRECTOR: Stephen Stead
CAST: Janna Ramos-Violante and Neil Coppen
VENUE: Theatre On The Bay until June 22
REVIEW: Peter Tromp
I wasn’t a huge fan of Stephen Stead’s production of ‘Cabaret’ that played at Theatre on the Bay last year. Words like “bland” and “stilted”, probably the last words one wants to be associated with ‘Cabaret’, kept on popping into my mind while I was watching that show. Luckily, none of that applies to ‘Venus In Fur’. Not in the least. The director instead delivers something thrilling, erotically charged and also a little dangerous.
It’s edgy stuff, but delivered accessibly and thankfully not in a way that it appears satisfied with how far it is pushing theatrical boundaries.
‘Venus in Fur’ introduces the audience to Vanda (Janna Ramos-Violante), a seemingly batty young actress determined to land the lead in earnest playwright and first time director Thomas’ (Coppen) new play based on the classic erotic novel of the same name. The show kicks off after Thomas has endured a long day of auditioning actresses and is ready to probably joke about it with his fiancé over dinner. Enter Wanda, rain soaked, encumbered with literal baggage, dressed in leather and lace and hell bent on at least reading for this part after she traversed the city with great difficulty to get to the audition. At first Thomas is dogged in his reluctance to entertain someone who arrived so late, but something about Vanda intrigues him and almost against his will he ends up indulging this mysterious individual. The audition soon becomes a peculiar battle of wills, with psyches almost literally being turned inside out.
‘Venus In Fur’ is rife with role-playing, role reversals, playful sexual humour and unexpected surprises and it’s great fun for the audience. It also has a genuine dark (or purple-blackish) undercurrent that might make some people uncomfortable during specific moments, but Stead fortunately does not shy away from these segments, presenting them with uncompromising starkness. It can be thrilling stuff at times.
The success of the show really hinges on the interplay between the two actors, and Ramos-Violante and Coppen share a chemistry that is palpable from wherever you may be sitting in the theatre. Both performances are laced with intelligence and detail, and the actors definitely leave an indelible impression on one.
‘Venus In Fur’ is currently hotting up theatres in America and elsewhere, and it’s a real treat to have something that is being written and talked about in the now on a local stage. Don’t miss it.
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