This play by David Ives opened off Broadway in  2010 and this production is very ‘off Broadway’, that is the show is being performed at the Performance Space, 107 Redfern Street, Redfern.

Given the vigour and passion that has been put into this production it is a shame that the show has only such a small season. I fervently hope that this production has a return and longer season and that it is transferred to another of Sydney’s intimate and more established venues such as the Old Fitz.

American playwright David Ives has based his play around the 1870 novella Venus In Furs by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. Ives has his main character Thomas Novachek play a  writer/director who is doing a stage adaptation of the novella.The play starts with him lamenting to his fiance about the inadequacies of the actresses he has so far auditioned. Thomas is at his wits end when suddenly a young woman arrives too late for an audition. Nonetheless with a mixture of cheek, gauche and feigned naivety, she persuades Thomas to let her audition.

The play shifts from the modern day to its 1870 setting and contrasts the attitude of the late Victorian era with today in regards to the power relationships between men and women.

From this clever premise many issues are teased out such as  stalking, the humiliating effects of submission, sexual violence, the sensuality of masochism to name just a few which struck me in what was an electrifying ninety minutes performance.

Caitlin Williams as Vanda Jordan/von Dunajew was sensational turning from gawky self deprecation to sexual temptress, popping in and out of these characters effortlessly throughout the play.

Zach Selmes as Thomas Novachek and Severin von Kusiemski has a less demanding role as the well meaning director and the masochistic von Kusiemski who in fact provides the perfect foil to Vanda’s whirlwind of emotions.

The play which is a study in feminism also switches the character roles when Vanda becomes dominant and starts to direct the play which Thomas submits to. Furthermore, there is gender swapping when Vanda persuades Thomas to play the female protagonist’s role.

Because Venus is a mythical Roman goddess and Aphrodite is the Greek version, there are also clever references to ancient myths such as the cult of Dionysus. This started out as a cult for women and thereafter for the marginalised in society. The invocation of Dionysus comes out in a dramatic part of the play and is also cleverly inserted by Ives to propel the plot forward.

Ives appears less concerned with the actual story and rather more with power of words, their context and the way in which they are used as weapons or defences in the battle of the sexes.

Director Emma Burns has beautifully managed the ebb and flow of the power relationships central to the play and the ninety minutes of the play went by as quick as a flash such was the level of engagement.

The booking fee for the play aptly will be supporting the Women and Girl’s Emergency Centre which purchases back to school supplies for children living in crisis accommodation.  

If what I have said previously seems heavy going and wearing, I should mention that the play is also shot through with a wicked, witty and lively sense of humour.

A great play of ideas, VENUS IN FUR is playing till the 13th April at 107 Redfern Street, Redfern.