Review: Venus In Fur (107 Projects)

Venue: 107 Projects (Redfern NSW), Apr 10 – 13, 2019
Playwright: David Ives
Director: Emma Burns
Cast: Zach Selmes, Caitlin Williams
Images by Andrea Mudbidri

Theatre review
Thomas is casting for his play, a new rendition of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s novella Venus In Furs from 1870, about a man who is so infatuated that he asks to be the woman’s slave. Vanda arrives late, but is exceedingly well-prepared for her audition; it begins to look as though the actor knows the work better than its author. In David Ives’ marvellous reinvention entitled Venus In Fur, Thomas’ misogyny is exposed from the very start, as a sort of commentary on the hypocrisy of American liberalism, where the straight white male often fools no one but himself, with his twenty-first century wokeness.

Thomas argues that he writes about a man’s surrender, but Vanda understands all the manipulations involved, not only in the role she is charged to play, but also as it pertains her status in the rehearsal room. Ives’ play is dark and delightful, especially scintillating for those with a penchant for BDSM and sapiosexuality. It is smart, playful and dangerous, constantly teasing us with its language and plot, beguiling as it cajoles us into asking “who is the master”, and “who is the slave.”

Splendid direction by Emma Burns keeps us hopelessly enthralled. Intensely mysterious, but saliently expounded, Venus In Fur is made to feel as delicious as it is complex. Design elements are rudimentary, but Burns ensures that the action is always intriguing, and also deeply satisfying. Actor Caitlin Williams is wonderful as Vanda, aggressively intelligent with her interpretation of the enigmatic female. She makes the dialogue come to glorious life. Zach Selmes is similarly powerful, and convincing as the reprehensible Thomas. The performance is thoroughly rehearsed, and although not particularly inventive with what they bring to the stage, their show is unequivocally captivating.

Thomas is taught the important lesson, that to present himself as a feminist on his own terms, is a disgraceful transgression. He imagines that to put his fictive heroine in a position of power, absolves his neglect of her own desires. His slave’s submission is entirely conditional and self-serving; we learn that it is the slave and Thomas’ desires that come first. The world does not need a feminism that simply focuses on shifting power from one gender to another. We must learn to conceive of new societies in which hierarchies that require anyone to be positioned at the bottom, burdened with disadvantage, are no longer acceptable. In the bedroom, however, we can play with more sadistic parameters, as long as nobody gets hurt, and everybody gets what they want.

www.facebook.com/…

Review: Exhale (Black Birds / Griffin Theatre Company)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Apr 9 – 13, 2019
Creators & Cast: Ayeesha Ash, Emele Ugavule

Theatre review
They live in Sydney, but they struggle to call it home. Ayeesha Ash is Māori Grenadian, and Emele Ugavule is Tokelauan Fijian. Their work Exhale relates to the sense of displacement that many experience in the metropolis, and the questions inevitably raised about background and origin, when examining notions of belonging. The artists identify in each other, the alienation that results from complex historical and ongoing operations of colonialism. They connect through a yearning for indigeneity, and it is this reclamation of cultural roots, that forms the substance on which, we too, can connect.

A thoughtful compilation of audio recordings and visual projections, help us visualise the women’s longing, but it is their very presence, as individuals and as a pair, that speak most saliently. Ash and Ugavule are compelling performers, both captivating with everything that they bring on stage. Their fifty-minute presentation is enjoyable and though-provoking, but explorations in Exhale have a tendency to feel too polite. The production is gentle, with moments of tenderness that are genuinely beautiful. Its spirit is evident, but it feels contained, perhaps hesitant with what it wishes to reveal.

Ash and Ugavule speak with their elders, who prove to be evasive, intentionally forgetful in their efforts to get on with life. We see in the young women, a frustration and a disquiet perhaps, but we wonder if a more urgent anger, could be helpful in the advancement of their stories. Not many of us are natural soldiers, but there are aggressors who will come to violate those who are peaceful, and when push comes to shove, one has to find the warrior within, even just for a brief theatrical sojourn.

www.black-birds.net

5 Questions with Fiona Press and Jasmin Simmons

Fiona Press

Jasmin Simmons: You recently appeared in a production of 1984, do you see any similarities between our world in Ditch and in Orwell’s?
Fiona Press: Yes! So many! Right down to tinned rations and Victory Gin – except in the Ditch world, we drink copious quantities of government-supplied whisky. And there’s no chocolate. Both worlds are governed by a fascistic totalitarian regime that controls the population by pitting the ’Security’ against ‘Civilian’ and turning both against the ‘Illegals’. The threat of amorphous foreign enemies rotates on a monthly basis (think Trump and North Korea) and there’s a touch of Margaret Atwood as well; women are controlled by having their reproductive rights totally denied.

Your character is somewhat of a mentor to mine, are there any women in our industry that have particularly inspired you?
Absolutely. First and most influential was the late Doreen Warburton, co-founder of the Q Theatre, which was my theatrical cradle. Doreen had been mentored by the legendary Joan Littlewood, and brought those same socialist and creative principles to bear in Penrith, which – at the time – had little cultural life. I spent three years attached to the Q, as a student, ASM, ran the box office, understudy (to Judy Davis, another enduring influence) – kind of an unofficial apprenticeship. Doreen was from Lancashire and was larger than life “with the bosom of a goddess and the carriage of an eagle” – PERFECT casting for Mrs Peel!

Do you share Mrs Peel’s green thumb?
Who doing indie theatre has time to garden?! I have a large messy block that’s basically a lizard and funnel web habitat at the moment. However, treat me nice and I might bake us a cake for tech week … my floury thumb is better than my green one.

My character, Megan, is just becoming politically aware, were you a politically aware teenager? Did you march and protest like Mrs Peel did when she was younger?
Oooh yeah – child of the 70s, me. That era defined my political convictions forever. With the Vietnam War on the news as we ate dinner every night, I can remember insisting to my primary school teacher that the topic of our first classroom debate should be ‘that conscription be abolished’. I was convinced my younger brothers would grow up to be drafted and die. I was ten. Then, as a twelve year old, I was the sole ‘It’s Time’ badge wearer at my ‘school for gels’ in 1972 when Gough swept to power and upon the Dismissal in 1975, swapped it for ‘Shame Fraser Shame’. My first overseas trip was in 1978 to the People’s Republic of China.

If you were transported to the world of Ditch in 2050, what are 3 things you would bring with you from 2019?
The small etymological dictionary that my grandfather gave me when I was eight. It still soothes me to open its yellow pages and skim the beauty of words and their origins, their connectedness. A folding hand fan to keep me from going spare in the humidity. And a crystal whisky glass – because if I’m going to drown in my sorrows while living in a ditch, I’m going to do it in style.

Jasmin Simmons

Fiona Press: So, Ditch was written by a young English woman ten years ago. What drew you, as a young Australian woman to this play right now?
Jasmin Simmons: First of all, the play is exceedingly relevant and remarkably fresh. Secondly, I was drawn to the team of inventive and assured women that I am fortunate enough to be working with.

How do the female characters deal within the hefty masculine world of Ditch?
Ditch is set in a post feminist world – the men of the play seem to be the most dominant. The women, however, are the great observers – and there is great power in that.

What’s the most useful skill you have brought to this production?
Multitasking!

‘Post apocalyptic, climate change, fascist dystopia’ sounds a tad depressing. Where’s the hope?
I don’t want to spoil the ending, but the hope lies within the devastation – similar to a bushfire – destruction provokes regrowth, new life.

And are there laughs?
Believe it or not, yes! As well as much breakfast making, animal skinning and whisky drinking.

Fiona Press and Jasmin Simmons can be seen in Ditch by Beth Steel.
Dates: 3 – 13 Apr, 2019
Venue: Limelight On Oxford