Left – Darcy Kent and Tilly Legge. Photo – Sarah Walker
I'm not sure if I've got this completely right, but in the late 19th century, Austrian aristocratic author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (from whose name we get the word masochist) wrote an apparently fictitious novella titled Venus In Furs. However it turns out that the novella was considerably more autobiographical than fiction.
American playwright David Ives wrote his 2010 stage adaptation of the novella, its main device being a reading of a play. So what we have here is a play within a play based on the fictitious version of an autobiography... Both the novella and the facts behind it make for fascinating reading, but let's focus on David Ives' adaptation and Lightning Jar Theatre's presentation of it.
The play opens with playwright Thomas venting his frustration at not being able to cast the female lead – Vanda – in his adaptation of Venus In Furs in spite of having gone through so many auditions. He is about to leave the office for the day when hopeful actress Vanda bursts through the door, hours too late. The lack of chemistry between the two is palpable. Thomas knows immediately and instinctively that Vanda is absolutely not right for the role of Vanda. And yet she persuades him to do a reading, with him agreeing to do the first three pages only, more to humour her and get her out of his hair. When her three pages is up, Thomas is intrigued. The reading continues, and some wonderfully inventive theatre unfolds.
I have to get kind of vague from here on, for to give away too much detail would be to ruin some of the surprise and some of the fun. There is much switching in and out of character, much role playing and even some clever role reversal. There is much humour, but also a great deal of drama and intrigue and the questioning of motives, as well as the questioning of identity. Given recent events in Hollywood with the Harvey Weinstein affair and the power many Hollywood big-shots have had and abused, the subject matter in this play seems timely, although perhaps it's more accurate to say it's a play just ahead of its time. Although, of course, sexual politics and the abuse of power are timeless.
Darcy Kent as Thomas and Tilly Legge as Vanda are excellent. Not only are they comfortable and convincing in their roles, but their skill in switching roles is impeccable. Both characters develop very naturally as the story progresses, intriguing the audience, reeling us into their world. By the halfway mark, you really won't know how things are going to pan out. But you will find yourself guessing, so compelling is the story, and my guess is you won't guess the ending. Just after the show, you might even find yourself a little unsure about what the hell just happened.
When a script is this good and the acting does such a superb script justice, it's probably a good idea to avoid distraction, and to that length, set, sound and lighting effects have been kept to a minimum. There is thunder and lighting, some quietly menacing aural effects and some loud effects towards the climax, but overall the acting and writing are left to work their magic. It helps that the bare stage of fortyfivedownstairs has character of its own, lending itself to the full spectrum of moods.
And there are many moods throughout this play. There are many laughs, and there is much to think about.
Lightning Jar Theatre presents
Venus In Fur
by David Ives
Director Kirsten Von Bibra
Venue: fortyfivedownstairs | 45 Flinders Lane Melbourne VIC
Dates: 13 – 24 Match 2018
Tickets: $35 – $40