Review: The superb Seagull, Lyric Hammersmith
Review: Mystery and connection in the lyrical Fishskin Trousers, Park Theatre

Review: Venus in Fur, Theatre Royal Haymarket

117118Given that Venus in Fur is about an actress auditioning for a male writer/director it was inevitably that pre-theatre conversations would turn to Harvey Weinstein and the treatment of women by men in positions of power in the entertainment industry. It is perhaps unfortunate timing for a play with such a synopsis but while it does explore male/female relationships and power it thankfully doesn't stray into that territory.

David Ives has written a play within in play. Writer/director Thomas (David Oakes) has adapted for the stage, the 1870 novel Venus in Furs which is said to have inspired the term 'masochism'. He has got to the end of a long day of fruitless auditions for the central character Wanda when Vanda Jordon (Natalie Dormer) turns up insisting she auditions.

She is unsubtle - brash even, and won't take no for an answer even if she appears to be the opposite of what Thomas is looking for. He reluctantly agrees that she can perform a few of Wanda's lines.  At Vanda's insistence Thomas reads the part of Severin who falls for Wanda, an independent woman. He asks to be her slave for a year promising to do whatever she asks of him. She initially refuses but eventually agrees asking more and more degrading things of him.

Vanda has come prepared for the audition which surprises Thomas but her preparation is more than a few costumes to help her get into character, over the course the play actress and director debate Wanda and Severin's relationship and who is dominating who. In parallel the play raises questions about Vanda and Thomas and their relationship - who is manipulating who?

Natalie Dormer and David Oakes make for great verbal sparring partners. It is a witty and interesting piece, funny and dark - and of course sexy but crucially it doesn't feel exploitative and this is in a large part down to David Oakes' Thomas who never feels predatory. First and foremost this is a battle of the minds - Vanda and Thomas are adversaries in intellect and ideas - it just happens to also ooze with sexual tension.

It's 90 minutes without an interval and I'm giving it four stars. It's at the Theatre Royal Haymarket until 9 December.