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Venus In Fur - Company O (Fringe World 2024)

Reviewed by Kate O'Sullivan


It is always nice to see a well-known show presented in an interesting venue. Company O have brought a remount of their production of Venus In Fur to the intimate space at the Mossenson Galleries in Subiaco for Fringe World 2024.

The show itself is deceptively complex, crossing back and forth between reality and a play-within-a-play. The performers handle this element with ease, the swings in accent being clear and crisp indicators to the audience for these moments. The show plays with power dynamics, with that power passed backwards and forwards between Thomas and Vanda. This is successful early on, when Thomas holds the power, as we see a familiar dynamic playing out between actor and director. Sadly, this isn't consistent throughout the show, as who holds the power becomes less clear, and ultimately less successful in this version.

Set out almost as a pas de deux, Venus in Fur is a chance to showcase talent for the right actors. Codey Findlay as Vanda strikes the right balance as the character in the play-within-a-play, with real strength and a surety in her accent work. As the actress side, however, it would have been nice to see a little more realism, especially when it came to facial reactions to some of the Thomas dialogue. It almost feels like she is more comfortable in the over-the-top nature of the character, rather than the more real nature of the actress.

Interestingly, the reverse can be said for Andrew O'Connell as Thomas. As the director-come-actor, in an interesting life-imitating-art moment, he feels comfortable and in his element, with great reaction work. This is notable right at the start of the play when Vanda drops into her character accent for the first time and we get to see the thoughts crossing his face. As the character, however, he feels less steady and less engaging. Having this imbalance between the actors doesn't allow for the push-and-pull of the power balances in the show, which ultimately leaves the performance feeling a little hollow.

The staging here is interesting - a wide and yet very shallow playing space with some large dominant set pieces, as well as some scene work occurring in the aisle. Whilst a good idea to use an interesting space, a lot of the actor's movements here felt somewhat hamstrung by the space. It didn't feel like they could move around as naturally as the performers seemed to want to, and the characters ended up feeling somewhat stuck on the edges. This was not helped when the characters sat down on the couch either, as half the audience craned to see the performers and thus missed some of the subtlety and nuance. The soundscape does a good job of adding atmosphere, especially with the persistent rain effect, and the limited lighting rig is used to good effect.

There are regular references throughout the show to the script they are rehearsing being functionally 'S&M porn'. As such, you would expect a lot more moments of proximity-driven intimacy throughout the show. The intimacy seemed to have been handled well - the actors seemed comfortable at all times - but it almost felt lacking. The play is a tug-of-war for power between a man and a woman. Please note, I am by no means suggesting that we needed physical intimacy, but rather that the tension and chemistry we wanted never quite hit its mark.

This is a script worth seeing in an alternative and interesting performance space - and one that I'm sure will cause many a discussion in a car park about the nature of power dynamics, especially in the theatre.

Codey Finlay (Vanda) and Andrew O'Connell (Thomas)

Reviewer Note: Tickets for this review were provided by the theatre company. Kate has previously worked with the assistant director/musical director, and previously trained alongside Codey Finlay


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