Please note, this is a review of a preview performance.
Starring Natalie Dormer and David Oakes, David Ives’s dark comedy about sadomasochism, set in New York City, is running for a strictly limited nine weeks at the Theatre Royal Haymarket.
The play opens with the sounds of an electric storm brewing over a rooftop. A perfect metaphor for both the tone of the production and the performances that you see onstage. Under the surface of every moment, and every sentence there is a sense of dark surrealism unfolding. From the second David Oakes is illuminated onstage as Thomas Novacheck, the audience is thrown headfirst into the depths of this twisted comedy.
David Oakes’ opens the play alone onstage, yet his performance only feels like it really starts the moment Natalie Dormer joins him. Not to say that he cannot act alone, but that their chemistry felt as electric and the lightning that continuously crackled overhead. To have such noticeable chemistry the actors have to be fully committed to the relationship onstage, and Oakes does not disappoint. He plays the exasperated playwright with a quiet intensity that is occasionally broken by bursts of anger, and it was fantastic to see such a surge of undiluted emotion. For the first ten minutes of the play his heavy American accent did feel a distracting, and almost irritating. However, as I settled into the production and the character started to flesh out on stage, I could feel the wheels of the play and the character start to turn towards something exciting.
Natalie Dormer’s performance is mesmerising, powerful and hilarious. Again, the American accent threw me for a few minutes, however as she launches into lines from the play-within-a-play a powerful performance takes hold. What starts as an audition for a struggling actress, develops into a tale of power and dominance. Dormer effortlessly swifts between Vanda Jorden, the brash New Yorker, and Wanda von Dunajew, an enigmatic and seductive woman- revealing the layers of complexity that the character embodies. Watching her switch roles almost mid-sentence, within a fast moving dialogue, seamlessly blending one performance into another felt like watching a magic trick. Dormer delivered certain lines that had the whole audience belly-laughing, alongside other moments that had them suspended in disbelief. It was utterly incredible watching her unravel the character onstage.
Alongside the surreal performances, the set and lighting design was vital in setting the tone for the play. Rob Howell (Designer) and Hugh Vanstone (lighting) create a world that feels secluded and hidden from reality, providing the perfect backdrop to this two-person production. At one point I was convinced it was actually raining outside, to create such an engaging and realistic moment on stage is a true testament to their talent.
The last twenty minutes of the production takes your breath away as its intensity rises to a crescendo. Becoming more extraordinary and erotic by the minute, If the actors hadn’t been so talented it might have been comical. The tension and passion grow and for the characters the lines between reality and fantasy becoming increasingly blurred. By the end I realised just how immersed I had become in the play. It’s an incredibly energetic and fast-paced production and one which I may never have considered to put on my list of go-to theatre. I’m glad I didn’t dismiss it after all.
These tickets were provided courtesy of London Box Office, where you can get Venus in Fur tickets. Always check out my guide to cheap theatre tickets and current best offers when booking tickets if you want a good deal!