We are constantly being told that the brain is the biggest, or at least the most important, sex organ (the skin is bigger). David Ives play, Venus in Furs, based on Sacher-Masoch’s actual play of the same title proves this to be true.
Fifty Shades of Grey has brought the forbidden world of BDSM (Bondage-Discipline; Domination-Submission; SadoMasochis) out of the closet. Venus in Furs has taken it into polite, cultured, society. I went along to Pieter Toerien’s Theatre on the Square to take a look at what the Durban-based KickstArt company has done with this work.
It is a two-hander starring the talented Neil Coppen as Thomas and the equally talented and stunning Janna Ramos-Violante as Vanda. Thomas is a director, disillusioned with the actresses auditioning for his play. Just as he is about to go home in bursts Vanda. She takes over his day, his play and his mind. There are some fabulous lines that stay with me long after I have left the theatre. One is Vanda’s explanation of the collar she is wearing “This was left over from when I was a prostitute”. The look on Coppen’s face makes one believe he is hearing this for the first time.
The play moves back and forth between the play within the play and the actors reading the part. The constant reminder that this is just fantasy keeps intruding into the fantasy. The constant exchange of power between the two is the perfect Domination/submission scene. The implied preludes to sex sizzles on stage until it gets graphic towards the end, then it fizzles – what was I saying about the brain? Fantasy is often infinitely more alluring than the fulfilment thereof. However, the warning about this play being unsuitable for children is not without merit. The sex scenes will make many people uncomfortable, however, the cleverness of the script overrides the discomfort, replacing it with a sense of excitement. If one is turned on by what is out of the ordinary it may well get hot in the theatre. The performances, as you may gather, are excellent.
The set is Greg King, costumes by Tracy Campbell (although Janna Ramos-Violente has a body just MADE for dominatrix outfits), and the sound is excellent with thunder and lightning crashing around to remind those who disapprove of hellfire and damnation. Director Steven Stead has done very well to create a sensuous, even smouldering piece of work.
If your fantasies run to willing sex slaves, consensual degradation and erotic thoughts about spankings, this is just the play for you. If you are very uncomfortable with this … well, perhaps you should see it just so you can make sense of the psycho-sexual drama and, en route, discover why you are so uncomfortable with these thoughts. The play is much, much more than SM porn. It is an intellectual challenge – and it offers sexual thrills.
Venus in Fur runs at Montecasino Theatre until August 25.