Natalie Dormer acts the hell out of this sizzling 90-minute charge through the politics of sexuality and gender
What with everything going on in Hollywood right now, the current West End run of Venus in Fur could be considered the worst timing. This salacious black comedy whips through themes of exploitation and sexual power play, using the casting couch as its rather dingy backdrop. Then again, it could be fortuitously timed vital stuff: a pertinent, self-reflective study that exposes real-life social issues.
Vanda Jordan (the electric Natalie Dormer) is late to a casting for an adaptation of Venus in Furs, an 18th century S&M-flavoured novella. At first, she appears utterly ill-suited to the play: a brash, broad-accented NY gal seemingly willing to do anything for the part – including revealing a raunchy PVC outfit.
At the same time, David Oakes’s role as adapter/director Thomas Novachek is unabashed in his misogyny: ‘Young women can’t play feminine these days – half dress like hookers and the other half like dykes.’ And he’s quick to judge: ‘You’re not the kind of girl we’re looking for.’ But then Dormer cranks up the confidence and we watch as Vanda convinces him to do a reading.
From here, she explodes from back-foot object into sizzling subject – via a cut-glass English accent – channelling the grand dame dominatrix character in the book. What ensues is the rapid-fire exchange of gender roles and power wielding. Through the frenetic and sometimes confusing traffic – Thomas too code switches from sexist director to willing sub – Vanda gains ground and begins to expose the intrinsic sexism of the book. The climax, nonetheless, is of him tied to a post, admitting his utter subjugation.
This play is at once two things: a seductive head to head between two complex characters, but also a device for discussion on sinister social issues. The former kept me allured during; the latter, talking about it for hours after. The strongest and longest impression, though, will be of Dormer’s enormously confident and vivacious performance.
Check out the 16-capacity Oscar Wilde Room where the man himself used to entertain. For larger parties the theatre can team up with a caterer to provide pre-matinee lunches or champagne receptions.
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Photos Darren Bell and Tristram Kenton