Direction: Andrew Foster (written by David Ives)
Circa Theatre; Circa Two (Nov 11 – Dec 9)
It’s difficult to talk too much about this clever play without giving too much away. So I’ll address the surface stuff and then talk about the impact. That’s all I can do – I want to recommend it, not ruin it.
Venus in Fur uses the tricky-to-nail conceit of a play within a play – but here it’s brilliantly observed and acted. I’d read David Ives’ script, months earlier, before I knew there was to be a local production. It’s a cracking script, super clever – it has Thomas (an adapter/director and sometime actor) casting a play based on the late 1800s erotic novel, Venus In Furs. It might be best known, in the modern world, for inspiring the Velvet Underground song of the same name. In one of several meta-moments this version of the play opens with the swirling viola of that song. It also helps to set the atmosphere for Thomas’ New York loft studio.
As he’s about to wrap for the day – a day of wasted time, having not found his leading lady, a woman arrives (she’s late – makes a point of it) with the same name as the character she’s aiming to play. She is Vanda – and wants to be the Vanda that Thomas needs. She has him read the contrasting lines and the two lock horns in a late audition. Powerplays swell, tensions rise and the blurring of worlds continues as this becomes less about the motives of the characters and more about the motivations of the actors – you can add to the in-jokes and meta-references that this production’s Thomas is played by Andrew Foster (the director here also. And in triple-duty showing off he’s also the set-designer!)
His partner in lines, lithe in the acting dance this duo most undertake to sell the entire show – its wonderful words and worlds, its themes – is Jessica Robinson.
Both Foster and Robinson are brilliant. Mesmerising. So good that if you do worry about losing a thread here and there you can simply watch and follow – they take the audience (and the play – and then the ‘play’ within that) where it needs to go.
We’re in such safe hands here.
And brilliantly, deftly, magically, Thomas and Vanda switch from the characters they’re playing to the actors they want us to think they are. They do this with pitch-perfect accents and not a single flub as they switch between them – a typical moment being the actor-in-character switching from their character’s ‘natural’ voice to reading a rehearsed line, to a switch back to provide some meta-commentary, and then diving right back into the rhythm of the rehearsed moment, or moment-in-rehearsal.
It’s heady, sometimes heavy stuff. But the sting of so many of the lines provides the right comedic payoffs – a smart rumination and a superbly cast, and paced two-hander. Yet more must-see theatre from Circa in what feels like a bumper crop – great performances and plays all year.