Venus in Fur is a play within a play inspired by Sacher-Masoch’s novel within a novel, Venus in Furs. The 1870 novella was a few decades ahead of its time exploring masochism – in fact it is credited for inspiring the term. Well into the twenty-first century anything hotter than vanilla between the sheets still causes a stir but is generally more broadly accepted if the popularity of 50 Shades of Grey is anything to go by.
From the trip of her tacky peep toe stiletto boot to the dog collar around her neck and the obnoxious voice – she has absolutely nothing going for her. Not even sharing a name with the main character can convince the play’s director Thomas that she is destined to embody the legendary Vanda in Venus in Fur.
But as the reading develops Thomas (Niel Coppen) becomes a mere stage prop to be wielded to Vanda’s liking. As the lines start to blur between the reading and reality not even an Inception style trinket, one that indicates reality when it stops spinning, could help him.
Initially the change of costume helps. Thomas has an exceptionally beautiful green velvet coat to transform him into Severin von Kusiemski. But the shift in power between the actress and her director goes deeper than this cosmetic change.
Like her character, Janna Ramos-Violante retains total control over her audience, enslaving them with a flick of her fur stole. Seeing a woman with this level of power is rare in entertainment, be it theatre, film or music. Ramos-Violante pulls it off most convincingly.
Venus in Fur is dark and disturbing. It is emotional voyeurism.
Venus in Fur runs at the Theatre on the Bay 5 – 22 June 2013.
A version of this review was featured on WhatsoninCapeTown.com