Lightning Jar Theatre is a newish independent theatre company based in Melbourne. Their current production is Venus In Fur by American playwright David Ives. It’s a play within a play, based on an apparently fictional novella from the late 19th Century, which as it turned out was more autobiographical than author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch might have wanted readers to believe, as well as giving us the word masochism.
Australian Stage caught up with Lightning Jar’s Tilly Legge as she takes on the commanding and demanding role of Vanda.
How long has Lightning Jar Theatre been around and how did it come into being?
Lightning Jar Theatre was formed in 2016 by Hannah Greenwood, Dylan Watson and myself. We wanted to create more of the sort of theatre that we want to see. It had kinda been on the cards for the three of us for some time, it was just a matter of waiting for the right play to present itself.
I understand lightning jars are a vessel for preserving fruit... how did this become the company name?
It’s a subtle reference to a line in The Dreamer Examines His Pillow by John Patrick Shanley. The lead character Donna is trying to explain the emotions she feels raging inside her; she says to her ex-boyfriend, “There’s lightning screwed in a jar in here!” We thought the image was great and represents what we love seeing on stage! It’s also an homage to how Dylan and Hannah met; they worked together on this play for an acting masterclass back in 2012.
What is your role at Lightning Jar?
We’re all the co-artistic directors. It’s a very collaborative effort. All responsibilities are shared between the three of us.
What's Lightning Jar's mission statement or ethos?
We want to create theatre that is exciting, fresh, moving & entertaining.
We want to celebrate writers, new & old.
We want to make you feel, make you forget, make you shift uncomfortably in your seat, make you laugh.
We want to be the reason people see more theatre.
How many plays have you produced so far?
This is our second show, following Aaron Posner’s Stupid Fucking Bird in 2017.
Stupid Fucking Bird was a wonderfully engaging production. What aspects of that play attracted you to it?
We loved its irreverence and at the same time deep respect for the source material – The Seagull by Anton Chekhov. It was a modern look at a classic, brimming with humour and pathos but also full of heart. It also had quite a lot of direct address to the audience which really brought the audience into the world of the characters. The metatheatrical elements of the play meant we could get away with some things that we may not have been able to with a more conventional script, especially from a budgeting perspective! We were honestly so surprised no-one had done it in Australia yet. It had so many successful runs in the US and we just felt we’d hit a gold mine when we came across it. It’s really one of those plays where an audience will have a good laugh and then WHAM! Hit right in the feels.
And the new production Venus In... actually, before we get to that, Venus In Fur or Venus In Furs? I'm confused. Please unconfuse me.
Venus in Fur (2010) by David Ives is about a playwright/director who’s adapted the book Venus in Fur (1870) Leopold von Sacher-Masoch for the stage. There’s a bit of translation debate about whether the title to the original book is plural or singular. Our version is plural but the one they talk about is the play is singular. Go figure!
Right. So Venus In Fur – what drew Lightning Jar to this particular play?
It’s pretty simple really; Venus in Fur is a great script. There’s a reason it was the most performed play in America in 2012/2013 – It’s an absolute cracker! It’s funny, it’s clever, it’s incredibly topical. The three of us are actors but we don’t want to choose plays just because there’s a role in it we want to play. It’s got to be a great story that deserves an audience.
Is the play simply fun or is it deep and making a statement?
It’s a bit of both really. Ives’ plays are always so whip-smart and he writes great dialogue; we joke that he’s (Aaron) Sorkin on Stage. It’s certainly entertaining but it does take the audience to a place they didn’t expect. Not only have all our audiences so far stayed seated for a few minutes after curtain to absorb what’s happened, they’re often then rushing out together to have prolonged discussions about what takes place. It’s great to make the audience think like that and want to discuss the play’s themes long into the night. We were heading out after a show one night last week and ran into a group of audience members at a bar that were doing just that!
I can't help thinking about the subject matter of the play and the current climate of sex and power play in Hollywood and indeed politics and culture generally. Is the play an observation or comment of what's going on now?
Well... it is, but it really is coincidental. The play was written in 2010 so not as a direct response to recent developments in the industry, although certainly it seems influenced by what many people knew occurred in the business but didn’t want to discuss. There have been jokes about the “casting couch” and what that implies that we’ve all heard, but as they say, there’s truth to every joke. Clearly Ives had his finger on the pulse! What’s occurred to us during rehearsals is how different a production of Venus may have looked like back when it was written compared to what we’re creating here. There has to be a certain amount of attention paid to themes that may not have been 8 years ago.
Leading up to opening night, what was the vibe like at rehearsals?
So nervous and excited! Previews were such a great way for us to warm to having an audience. We feel we’re in a great place to have some packed houses!
How do Tilly and Vanda get along with each other? What does each of you think of the other?
Vanda is an absolute firecracker – great fun at a party. Just don’t make her mad! What does she think of me? Well hopefully she thinks I’m doing her justice!
We should come and see Venus In Fur because...
You’ll be thoroughly entertained – by the end of the play, once you get over the initial dumbstruck stupor that most people seem to experience, you’ll be busting to grab a drink and discuss what you just saw. “So does that mean that she-?” And “So was it really…?”
Lightning Jar Theatre presents Venus In Fur by David Ives, now playing at fortyfivedownstairs – until 24 March 2018. Further details»