A steamy new play to guarantee audience satisfaction

2013-07-28 14:00

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Sexy and full of sass, with a titillating helping of forbidden passion – Venus in Fur is 90 minutes of pure theatrical pleasure.

Neil Coppen, the 2011 Standard Bank Young Artist for Theatre, is Thomas, a young playwright on the cusp of brilliance and casting his new adapted play.

Janna Ramos-Violante is Vanda, a seemingly inadequate actress who is late for her audition.

As the thunder crashes and the rain lashes the windows of a pokey rehearsal room in New York, Thomas laments the lack of a “Vanda” for his new play, which is based on an erotic novel written in 1870.

When a woman falls through the door cussing, and introduces herself as Vanda, he’s irritated.

Little does he know that this is an inauspicious beginning to a fateful encounter – she strips off her coat to reveal a leather bustier, suspenders, stilettos and a dog collar. After all, she says, it’s porn, isn’t it? Unamused, he rushes to cover her up.

Unsexily with an emphasis on crass, Vanda prepares to read the theatrical Vanda with a put-upon Thomas, who thinks the quickest way to get rid of her is to humour her. But as she slips into the character of a European aristocrat in 1870, the mood shifts and the audience’s laughs are replaced with gasps.

Thomas is also transformed by her metamorphosis and the theatre is shot through with a frisson of expectation that builds, haltingly at first.

Thomas and Vanda begin to move to the age-old tune of sexual domination, drifting from the future to the present and back. Who they are becomes entangled in who they are pretending to be.

They dip into the roles of abused and abuser, of dominatrix and dominated. They switch, then they switch back.

Delicately, playwright David Ives builds the sexual tension, while sneakily getting in a thrust or two in the battle of the sexes. There is a lot of text and subtext, and context, but the voluptuous packaging ensures that the audience is satisfied.

Venus in Fur (faux, of course) is an award-winning play that is still on Broadway and this masterfully executed production of it is directed by Kickstart Productions’ Steven Stead, who most recently delivered a pitch-perfect production of Cabaret.

Coppen and Ramos-Violante have worked together before, most recently on Coppen’s Abnormal Loads, which premiered at the National Arts Festival in 2011.

The pair deliver what are perhaps the best performances I have seen in some time.

They work in perfect sync, the trust required in each other to pull this off without hesitation must be immense.

It is an intimate play, one that requires body and soul to be laid bare in public; and with each other’s support, they do this unflinchingly.

Venus in Fur delivers all that a theatre production should – a script rich in wit, drama and tension showcased by sublime performances, fine direction and design that comes together to create a piece of entertainment that lingers pleasurably long after the curtains come down.

» Venus in Fur is on at The Studio Theatre at Montecasino until August 25

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