Natalie Dormer shines (in shiny boots of leather) in this preposterous Broadway comedy
If you really want to see Natalie Dormer in a rich array of kinky-by-numbers get-ups, then my god does this show deliver. David Ives’s play, first seen on Broadway in 2011, feels like it’s almost entirely designed to showcase the talents of a female star in a sort of pre-watershed S&M storyline.
It’s adapted from the 1870 Austrian novella‘Venus in Furs’ which, like the Velvet Underground song it inspired, is awash with‘shiny shiny, shiny boots of leather’ and arch powerplay. But Ives has morphed the original into a kind of present-day audition room drama. Dormer plays Vanda, an actor who’s hellbent on getting the lead role in an established playwright’s adaptation of the story. Played with bland world-weariness by David Oakes, he’s a bit of a sad sack: he doesn’t trust anyone else to direct his work (always a bad sign) and genuinely believes that his source material is high literature.
Dormer unleashes a memorably powerful performance: she swaps adeptly between gauche ingenue and the controlled intensity of the dominatrix part she’s reading for. Still, I’m not sure how far Ives is satirising the tired trope of a pervy, controlling male director living out his fantasies on stage. Dormer’s character gets to call out some of his sexist assumptions, but her points are undermined by the truly ridiculous Noo Yoik accent she’s been persuaded to adopt, and by her character’s kittenish playfulness, spike heels and patent leather corset.
Ultimately, her attempts to resist the time-dishonoured trope of the casting couch are outweighed by the outright sensuality of Patrick Marber’s production. It’s hugely funny, silly stuff, stuffed with nonsensical twist after twist, each one soundtracked by a clap of thunder. But a few weeks after the Weinstein revelations, is this really the story that the theatre industry needs? Heavens no.