If nothing else, the arrival on the West End stage of David Ives’ play about manipulation and sexual powerplay is certainly timely. And the production, slickly directed by Patrick Marber, offers what some might see as a neat bit of table turning.
Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones) gives a quite mesmerising performance as Vanda, an overpoweringly confident actress with a Brooklyn drawl who turns up late to auditions for a part in a play written and directed by Thomas (David Oakes, Victoria). His play is an adaptation of the novel Venus In Furs by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, the man who gave his name to masochism — see where we’re going with this?
Thomas, weary from a day seeing actresses unsuitable for the part, is initially reluctant to try out another girl who doesn’t seem to fit his requirements. But this force of nature won’t be denied and after wearing Thomas down captivates him with her ability to flip from brash New Yorker to the sophisticated lady the role requires. And he’s further intrigued, and a little unsettled, to discover she knows far more about the part, and indeed Thomas’ private life, than she at first lets on.
As the two rehearse and she coerces him into evermore revealing improvisations, the game of manipulation rises in intensity as power shifts and Thomas becomes more submissive.
Dormer dominates proceedings. It’s an intoxicating performance that bewitches, bothers and bewilders the audience just as Vanda does to Thomas. Oakes though does an admirable job in the less meaty part, offering a nicely judged performance as the man caught in Vanda’s web as his position of control ebbs away. There is a tangible chemistry between the pair.
Intriguing as it is though, it all gets a bit too wordy and a touch pretentious, with the play within a play format ultimately feeling a bit too clever for its own good. Subtlety also goes out the window as each new revelation is punctuated by thunder from the storm raging outside.
And given that Dormer spends most of her time on stage in just a black pvc basque, stockings and suspenders in a play written by a man and directed by a man, whether this is really payback time and who is actually calling the shots remains open to question.
Venus in Fur is at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket until 9 December
Photography by Tristram Kenton