A simple set. An audience 360-ing around a wooden table, where a man sits, writing and sipping coffee, unphased by the hubbub of theatre-goers scrambling for a seat. The background music a well-curated playlist of contemporary tunes, cuts. The lights dim, save for the spotlight on our mysterious man centre stage.
The phone rings and for a second, I'm furious at an audience member who hasn't heeded the request to turn their phone off.
No. I've been fooled already, as Thomas played by Zach Selmes answers his phone and vents to his wife no sorry, his fiancι about the lack of talented girls audition for his play; a new take on Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's novella Venus In Furs.
Crash. There's a storm outside, and the lighting effects are convincing enough to make me jump slightly in my seat.
Enter Vanda played by Caitlin Williams a hopeful auditionee who's run late for the call, dropping more f-bombs than Gordon Ramsay in a busy kitchen.
Vanda convinces Thomas to let her audition despite her tardiness, and what follows is an intricate dance of power dynamics, as together they explore the play's subject matter of dominance and submission. Soon, it becomes clear that Vanda has done more than simply brush through her audition lines on the train ride over, as she challenges Thomas on his characters and how they're written.
The simple set simply highlighted how much superb acting and brilliant direction does not need a cornucopia of distracting props, costumes and bits-and-bobs on stage. Director Emma Burns said "I want people to walk away with a greater respect for power; that is a respect for how dangerous and harmful it can be... I want to audience to leave with a greater respect for young adults from whom respect and submission is implicitly expected of in ever industry... every interaction of power."
Certainly, most academic pieces on the subject of BDSM suggest that the most important factor is trust and respect between two parties. Without that, does the line blur into abuse? The conversation also made us ponder what is empowerment, and what is just dominance?
Selmes was brilliant as the self-important playwright who flicked between arrogant and gormless seamlessly, with well-paced comedic timing. Williams effortlessly convinced us and Thomas of Vanda's naivety in the beginning, and switching between herself and the character she was auditioning for was impeccable.
Both Williams and Selmes had the audience spellbound, in the palm of their hands for the full 90 minutes, so perhaps we, the audience, were the ones being submissive in this power play all along.
Vanda: Caitlin Williams
Thomas: Zach Selmes
Director: Emma Burns
Producer: Sean Landis
Designer: Maddy Picard
Publicist: Andrea Mudbidri
Lighting Designer: Hannah Crane
Sound Designer: Georgia Condon
Artist: Chloe Farrington
Costume Assistant: Jake Parker
Graphic Designer: Michael Felczynski
Makeup Artist: Tess Williams