REVIEW: Venus in Fur, Theatre Royal Haymarket

Natalie Dormer shines in this gripping and intense play by David Ives that examines power and desire. 

Natalie Dormer and David Oakes. (c)Darren Bell. 

Following a successful run on Broadway, David Ives’ play has now landed in the West End to offer an intriguing insight to relationships as well as our attitude to power and desire in a gripping production directed by Patrick Marber.

Taking place on a stormy evening, Venda arrives to audition for with director Thomas Novachek, determined to win the part – even though at first it is clear she isn’t right for the role. But as they read the script and become more involved with their character’s lives – where does the line between reality and fantasy stop? 

It would be easy to simply describe the story as being about desire, but actually David Ives goes deeper than this to look at it from a psychological point of view about how our hidden desires tells us a lot about ourselves – by cleverly masquerading it as a play within a play.

With Patrick Marber directing, the production is surprisingly intimate, keeping the audience’s focus on what is unfolding in front of them to great effect. Everything from the moody lighting to even the way in which the stage is used by the cast, suggests a seductive and intriguing situation is unfolding right in front of our eyes. As the story unfolds, Marber has made it particularly clear just how deeply involved the characters are in their roles – really drawing out the best performances of Dormer and Oakes.

But it has to be said, that the purpose and the message of the play isn’t really made clear and the ending seems to leave a lot unsaid with more questions than answers – which can make it feel slightly messy.

However, what makes up for this is the strong performances from Natalie Dormer and David Oakes. Natalie Dormer as Vanda is particularly dynamic as she switches between the actress Vanda and the character Dunayev in the play Venus in Fur. As Vanda, she is wonderfully light, bubbly with a lot of insight into the character she is desperate to play. In contrast to this when she is performing as Dunayev, she is equally charismatic and increasingly domineering – this is powerful and mesmerising to watch.

In a sense, David Oakes as Thomas is perhaps a softer role but he provides an excellent and in control performance that is the perfect contrast to Dormer’s more dominating (if you pardon the pun) character. The way in which the audience can see how he is getting further and further into the role that he is playing, means that the audience tell that  the lines between reality and fantasy are being blurred, increasing the production’s hold on them.

The onstage chemistry between the pair is convincing, natural and as the production heads to its climax wonderfully builds up in intensity that you can’t help but wonder who is going to break first, particularly as the power transfers from one character to the next.

It is a play which has been sharply written, but needs further clarity on its purpose and message. As a production, it is sexy, subtle but powerfully performed to make for a highly engaging ninety minutes.

Venus in Fur will play at the Theatre Royal Haymarket until the 9th December. To book tickets visit: Tickets.comLast, Love, Theatre Tickets Theatre.comTheatre   or you can book through Love London Love Culture here.

Rating: ❤❤❤❤

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