In Venus in Fur, a writer and director casts a leading actress for a role in his adaptation of an 1870 novel by the forefather of sado-masochism, and all round erotic Austrian, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch.
Natalie Dormer (from of Games of Thrones) is one-half of this two-person play set in modern day New York. She plays Vanda, an energetic, brash young Brooklynite who rocks up late to an audition she was never booked for in the middle of a thunderstorm, demanding to read with director Thomas (played by David Oakes). When he finally relents, the pair launch into a play-within-a-play about a man seeking to be dominated by a powerful woman. The parallels are too obvious and – apart from the final scene, which is abruptly bonkers and pantomime-bad – go nowhere very interesting.
As the actress and director lapse in and out of their roles (with Dormer sometimes unable to tell which accent she should be using at any given time) Vanda changes costumes, from a strapped up leather corset to a conservative Victorian dress, and back. She cuts mid-scene to critique Thomas on his chauvinist writing, while she herself is a titillating, sexy and male-created character. It’s like Inception, but with three layers of muddled feminist theory instead of a giant folding Paris.
It is a funny play – Dormer has a wickedly comic streak – but even at 90 minutes, Venus in Fur feels like a fine idea drawn out too long.