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Theatre Review (Singapore): Venus in Fur by David Ives

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Singapore Repertory Theatre’s Venus in Fur is running at the DBS Arts Centre, home of SRT, from 15th March to 6th April 2013, and stars Steffanie Leigh and Anson Mount.

Venus in Fur tells the tale of ditzy wannabe actress Vanda (Leigh) who arrives late for an audition for scribe/debut director Thomas’s (Mount) adaptation of (real-life) book Venus in Furs by Austrian author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (from whose name we get the term “masochism”). Convincing him to allow her to audition, Vanda performs the entire play with Thomas, leading to a play-within-a-play situation.

In this sexually charged piece of theatre, the line between life and art is blurred as the characters intermittently mix their in-play “audition” characters with themselves. Suspicion arises when Vanda seems to know certain things about Thomas’s life, and that is when suspense and mystery start to build.

Ives’s play is both funny and witty, and while the first half will have you laughing, the second half, with more mystery and sensuality, will adds erotic and sexual layers to the plot. The “Venus in Fur” play that is referenced throughout is after all a story about S&M and a man’s desire to be owned, humiliated and tortured by a woman for his sexual gratification.

Ives cleverly mixes gender roles at one point too, along with mixing the characters’ realism with the “audition process” – thereby giving the play a schizophrenic element that lends itself well to the type of story this is – and especially to the surprising twist at the end.

Whilst Anson flubbed his lines at various places and could have employed more variety in his expressions and been less restrained in places, Leigh absolutely thrills us as Vanda, seamlessly switching between an American accent and a high-class British one, sometimes mid-sentence as she segues between playing Vanda (Leigh’s character) and Vanda (the former Vanda’s character) in the play within this story.

The set, which resembled an arty-farty loft, was effective and stylishly designed with a series of panel windows and pipes to present a humble but fashionable abode. The headshots of actresses pinned on a board were a nice addition too.

Venus in Fur is an exciting and thrilling tale, both sexually and otherwise, but in the end it is Steffanie Leigh who seduces the audience with her charm, sexual energy and X-factor to make this a must-watch play by SRT.

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About Sharmila Melissa Yogalingam

Ex-professor, Ex-phd student, current freelance critic, writer and filmmaker.