David Ives' two-hander is an exciting, erotic exploration of sexual fantasies.
Starring Game of Thrones star Natalie Dormer and David Oakes, the Patrick Marber-directed Venus in Fur is now open at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in the West End.
The play tells the story of Thomas Novachek, a playwright / director who is auditioning actresses for the lead role in his new Broadway play, an adaptation of the 1870 novel Venus in Furs.
Things are going badly. None of the actresses he has seen have been good enough, there’s a storm blowing outside, and he’s already late to meet his fiancé.
In comes Vanda Jordan. She’s an actress with a thick New York drawl. She’s running late, but shares the same name with the lead female character in Novachek’s play, and manages to convince him to let her audition.
What follows is an exchange of wits and wisdom, as Vanda proves herself more than capable of playing the role, and the pair begin to embody the characters they are reading.
Dormer and Oakes are on fine form here. Neither of them are offstage for any of the whole 90 minutes the single-act plays runs. There’s a plethora of lines and a number of intricate details to get right (not least the switch between Manhattan and high society, 17th-century voices), but they manage perfectly.
As intellectuals, Vanda and Novachek really duke it out – there’s clearly a spark between actress and director – and there’s plenty of fun to be had in Ives’ punchy, lively script of interplay.
At its core, the play deals with themes such as sexual fantasy, attitudes towards both sexes – both in the 17th century and the modern day– and how much these have (or haven’t) necessarily changed over the years.
It even deals with casting couch culture, too; an uncomfortably prevalent and important theme for today’s audiences.
The play also looks stunning. Of course it helps that both Dormer and Oakes are gorgeous, but the set is noticeably striking too, reaching out of the confines of the Haymarket’s gilded proscenium.
The whole piece takes place in a run-down rehearsal space in Lower Manhattan. It’s dingy, dark and cold; lightning flashes through the skylight above the scene.
Remarkably for just two bodies, the leads manage to fill the space, making it come alive with tricks of the light and the clever use of abandoned furniture as props for their 17th century readings.
In the second half of the play, Venus in Fur really ramps up its sensuality and sexiness. It never fully delves into 50 Shades territory, instead flirting with the idea instead of showing it on stage. It flips sexual politics on its head, challenging the perceptions of who has dominance in this clearly sexually-driven relationship.
Venus in Fur is at its best when the leads are fuelling the sexual fire that is building between them. That’s when the sparks really fly.
Venus in Fur is running until 9 December 2017. Tickets are available now from Ticketmaster.co.uk.