Putting the spotlight on Venus.
So, dear reader, I know I just went on and on about the novel, but I said nothing of the play in my last entry, so here goes.
I read the play for the first time last year and I was so excited about it! The change of characters, while keeping with the storyline of the book, the themes incorporated with such finesse that you barely realise you’re being shown a bigger picture until you realise it. It. Is. Genius! So read on, reader, as I unravel the mystery that is Venus In Fur.
I loved the fact that Venus in Fur, by David Ives, is not an adaptation of the novel, albeit greatly inspired by it. It is not following the story of Wanda and Severin but instead modernises its contents and themes by introducing the characters of Thomas, a playwright and director auditioning women in his search for the one who could portray Wanda, and Vanda, an actress who may just be the one he needs for the part. I thought that was a great twist to the original story, and David Ives masterfully remodelled it to fit a more modern approach to the story, while staying true to the original themes and plot.
The auditorium is empty, everyone has gone, only the two remain. The audience becomes voyeurs, we become the empty chairs, and witness the audition turned rehearsal, as Vanda portrays Wanda and Thomas, Severin. As she is trying to convince him she is made for the role, she almost takes on the personality of the character.
Intrigued, Thomas decides to become the Kushemski to her Dunayev. While they bounce lines off each other and discuss the play’s themes, the relationship between the two becomes ambiguous and blurred. At the start, their positions are well defined. He has all the power, as the director. He cannot imagine that she will meet his requirements for such a role. She's brash, vulgar and unschooled. But Vanda shows astonishing insights into the novel and her character, and she performs beyond his expectations.
They both become caught up in the characters they are reading. Eventually, the lines are so blurred we wonder if the actors “rehearsing” are simply very good at what they do or if the two have actually become their alter egos. If the power that resided in Thomas, as the decision maker and director of the play, has transferred to Vanda, who demonstrates much decisiveness and control over him, even when she speaks as herself and not as Wanda. The balance of power is reversed, and the actress establishes dominance over the director. She has become more and more feminine, a woman of strength and character who attracts the idolisation of someone who, at the start of the play, as in the book, showed dominance and power over her.
The allegory made in the novel of Wanda being an impersonation of the Goddess Venus is repeated here again in the play, as Vanda grows more and more powerful over Thomas, and the tables are turned once again. Where does power reside when one desires and the other is desired, when one subjects themselves to the other’s power, when that power turns to cruelty and abasement, humiliation and degradation? Where does the line sit and when is it being crossed?
Nathan Schulz is bringing the play to the Motet Creative Studios in Molendinar just in time for Valentine’s day on the 12th and 13th of February. He and his cast - Dominique Bradley as Thomas/Severin and Jenna Eve as Wanda/Vanda - and crew have worked tirelessly to incorporate all the themes into this multi-layered play.
He aims for the audience to be entertained as well as be educated, making us wonder about the implications of what is being witnessed on stage, shaking up our preconceived ideas and that of society. Leopold von Sacher-Masoch had done so by writing about such themes in his novel. Nathan merely wishes to further his legacy and bring an immersive twist to the play.
As much as the BDSM theme has shock value, it is approached with humor and freshness, rendering the play anything but crass and vulgar. With this epic battle of the sexes, the audience can walk away in the end with new ideas on feminism, female empowerment and gender equality.
Nathan and his cast and crew will keep the audience on their toes until the end, and make them want more. The challenge, he said to have met, was about taking the audience through a journey. Quite the challenge, as it is tricky to produce a play about a rehearsal of a play that is itself an adaptation of a novel.
Harder challenge still, when the themes of the book are so confronting and, for some, uncomfortable to consider. But the whole point is to leave the theatre having been entertained and educated, so that we are able to open up our minds and better ourselves, for “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” (Socrates)
This concludes my entry on Venus In Fur - the play. In my next one, I will review the play as performed by Dom Bradley and Jenna Eve and the mise-en-scène from Nathan Schulz and his crew. I am so excited, I can barely wait to be on Valentine’s day week-end, and even more so that this year, it is not only the box of chocolates from my partner that makes me impatient.
For tickets to Venus in Fur, click here