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Venus in Fur at Melville Theatre

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Lines blurred between fantasy & reality at amorous audition
Venus in Fur, Melville Theatre, play, performing arts, masochism, drama, stage, erotic
An amorous audition between playwright Thomas (Thomas Dimmick) and Vanda (Grace Edwards) in Venus in Fur blurs the line fantasy and reality. Picture: Nicholas Tejchman


A mysterious, erotic and funny drama – featuring just two people – is Melville Theatre's first offering for 2018. Written by US playwright, screenwriter and novelist David Ives and directed by Trevor Dhu, Venus in Fur was first staged in 2010 and nominated for numerous Tony Awards before Roman Polanski shot a French film version in late 2012.

The play-within-a-play is an adaptation of the 1870 novel Venus in Furs by Austrian author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, the book that inspired the term masochism. The play goes behind the scenes at an audition in New York City, where a playwright and mysterious young actress blur the lines between fantasy and reality, seduction and power and love and sex.

Armed with a bag of S&M gear and period costumes, the actress convinces the playwright to read his own script with breaks along the way to argue about the meaning of the story. "As the reading progresses, the characters take on the roles for real and one of them, through the portal of love, becomes the dominant gender – but with a premise of complete control, sexism and sadomasochism," Trevor said.

Venus in Fur, Melville Theatre, play, performing arts, masochism, drama, stage, erotic
Venus in Fur looks at what is real and what is fantasy with Thomas Dimmick and Grace Edwards. Picture: Nicholas Tejchman

"It's frequently described as a play-within-a-play but one of the plays is actual reality.The main challenge is the gradual timing for sensuality and domination to take over and guiding the cast and my perspectives of the play's themes and plot. I also need to assist the actors to build up such an out-of-real-life comedy-drama."

Involved in the performing arts for as long as he can remember, Trevor has worked with Patch and Playhouse Theatres, Perth City Ballet and did extensive professional work with the Australian Dance Theatre in the eastern states. He has directed, choreographed and acted in various productions at the Mandurah Performing Arts Centre – most notably West Side Story and Jesus Christ Superstar – and also performed and directed at Harbour, Roleystone, Old Mill and Melville Theatres.

More recently, Trevor has directed Summer of the Seventeenth Doll at the Old Mill Theatre, winner of several Milly Awards, and the acclaimed Closer, as well as Barefoot in the Park and Spike Heels. "My decision to direct Venus in Fur is that I prefer doing plays that have a quirk and are a creative venture that stretch local theatre boundaries – but, at the same time, give local talent the opportunity to try something different," he said. "More personally, I was dominated by my mother and emotionally dominated in a previous relationship so part of it is looking at that tricky search to find equality in a relationship."

Venus in Fur, Melville Theatre, play, performing arts, masochism, drama, stage, erotic
Grace Edwards as Vanda in Venus in Fur at Melville Theatre. Picture: Nicholas Tejchman


Grace Edwards plays the actress Vanda, a character she describes as "a fabulous enigma". "She turns up late to an audition and makes a terrible first impression – she's scatterbrained, impulsive, clueless, crass and utterly desperate," she said. "But as soon as Vanda starts to read, she proves everyone wrong and completely embodies the sophisticated allure of her aristocratic character.

"This piques the playwright's interest and, as they read on through the night, the line between the reality of the audition and the play-within-a-play begins to blur, as do the multiple sides of Vanda. Who is this woman and what does she want? The answers are thrilling, surreal and formidable."

The main challenge, according to Grace, is the fact the role of Vanda is like playing 10 characters at once. "She's so mercurial and that's the most exciting challenge about the role for me," she said.

Venus in Fur, Melville Theatre, play, performing arts, masochism, drama, stage, erotic
…it's about so much more than sadomasochism – Grace Edwards, who plays Vanda.

"Some transformations are gradual and escalate over the course of the play while others happen in an instant. It's exceptionally detailed work – physically, vocally and mentally – and it's wonderful."

After taking drama studies in high school, Grace started performing with a variety of companies in 2008 and has received 'Best Actress' nominations at the annual Finley Awards for her roles in The Crucible at Roleystone Theatre and Amadeus at the Old Mill Theatre. Since 2014, she has predominantly appeared in cabarets, mostly written and devised for Fringe World with The Dummies Guide to Opera and Skin Deep both nominated for awards.

Venus in Fur, Melville Theatre, play, performing arts, masochism, drama, stage, erotic
If you hadn't guessed, the play has adult themes and some coarse language

"Venus in Fur appealed because I was fascinated by the spellbinding power dynamic between the two characters and the combination of darkness, sensuality and laugh-out-loud humour throughout," Grace said. "I first heard of Venus in Fur during a conversation about the 2012 Tony Awards when I asked who won best actress and someone replied 'that girl (Nina Arianda) in the BDSM play".

"I read the play myself and realised it's about so much more than sadomasochism – but it's there for a reason. It's a riveting lens through which to explore how power shifts in relationships that creates an emotionally-charged battle for control between Vanda and the playwright Thomas."

Venus in Fur plays at 8pm February 16, 17, 21, 23, 24, March 1, 2 and 3 with a 2pm matinee February 25. Tickets are $20, $15 concession – book on 9330 4565 or at www.meltheco.org.au. Please note: the play has adult themes and some coarse language. Melville Theatre is on the corner of Stock Road and Canning Highway, Palmyra.

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Why? It’s a study of domination and power that’s darkly comic and dangerously compelling explored through a satisfying revenge comedy.
When: 8pm February 16, 17, 21, 23, 24, March 1, 2 & 3; 2pm February 25
Phone: 9330 4565
Where: Melville Theatre, corner of Stock Road and Canning Highway, Palmyra
Cost: $20, $15 concession
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