REVIEW – Venus in Fur with Black Swan

On the 15th of January, I was given the privilege of attending the preview night for Black Swan’s Venus in Fur, written by David Ives and directed by Lawrie Cullen-Tait, at the Perth State Theatre. I didn’t know much about the play before hand, and decided not to find out and let the show surprise me. Without giving too much away, I was greeted by an interesting stage space. The large performance area was mostly dispensed with to have a very focused stage area depicting a studio loft.

We are very quickly introduced to Thomas Novacheck, played by Adam Booth, a playwright slash director, clearly frustrated by a lack of talent in young ladies auditioning for his next production, an adaptation of the 1870’s novel A Venus in Fur. His mobile phone rant to his fiancé is both amusing and rather poignant. Having sat on both sides of the casting couch, I could all too easily related to much of his complaints, however comical they sounded.

FelicityAs he is about to leave the studio, he is confronted by a brash, crass and somewhat offensive young lady. Ironically, she shares the same name as the female protagonist of Thomas’ play, Vanda, played by Felicity McKay. She appears to embody everything Thomas had only seconds before been complaining about, but with a rougher presentation. She convinces him to let her read, and has even brought her own costumes to help out.

As soon as Vanda gets into character, it is clear that she is not what she seems, and so the battle of the sexes begins. Vanda challenges Thomas opinions of the story he is creating, his own insecurities, and belief in himself, while Thomas struggles to defend his artistic interpretation on what is essentially 1870s porn in Vanda’s opinion.

Both actors gave impressive performances, however I was captivated by Felicity and the tiny little nuances she brought to the character. I found myself watching her expressions as Thomas spoke. You could almost hear what she was thinking throughout. It felt incredibly natural. When you consider that she technically played several characters through the course of the play, being able to maintain that level of connection is simply stunning.

The simple and tight staging was put to good use, and I have the feeling that this production would have been an ideal candidate for Theatre in the Round. As it was, there were a few blocking issues with positioning of the cast, but considering this was an intimate power play piece, I doubt I could have done any better.

Sound and lighting aren’t my specific area, yet I felt that both were rather good. The lighting helped to reduce the visible stage area to the loft set piece, and was regularly used to help set moods, even being “controlled” by the cast. Sound was used to good effect adding little moody elements, although I personally question the little audio clips when the “actors” were miming movements as they read through Thomas’ script. They added some humour, and yet were very subtle. It was a delicate balance which mostly worked for me, but I have that little voice in my head saying were they necessary? I minor quibble really, and certainly not one that detracted from the show itself.

Everyone will have their own opinion of course, but one thing is certain, when the audience continue clapping until the cast return for an encore bow, then you know the show has been a hit. Personally, the standout element in what was a powerful production, was most definitely Mz McKay. In my opinion, she has nailed the very aspects in what I define as the perfect actor. If you only need one reason to see a show, make it this young lady.

Well done to all involved. The show runs until the 8th of Feb, and tickets can be purchased from Black Swan’s web site. http://www.bsstc.com.au/season-2015/venus-in-fur/

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