Venus in Fur – A review by Graham Hicks

Citadel Theatre, Shoctor Stage
9828 101A Ave., Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Through February 8, 2015
Tickets start at $30

What’s this? A little foreplay?  Black corsets? Whips? Legs that go on forever?

At The Citadel Theatre?


But, this being the theatre, we’re not talking pornography. And, if it was a film, Venus in Fur would likely have a “G” rating. But you wouldn’t take your kids.

Venus in Fur is based on a wildly creative idea and is executed on the Citadel’s Shocter stage in wildly creative ways. 

The plot’s straightforward and needs explanation before writing about this production.

A struggling director/writer (Jamie Cavanagh) is holding auditions for the female lead in his new play, based on a 19th century erotic novel, Venus in Furs by the original Mr. Sadomasochism himself, an Austrian writer by the name of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. This is historic fact.

What happens in the play isn’t. The wind blows in a wild, crazy, kinky, one-step-off-the-street actress (Alana Hawley), and the fun begins. 

For Thomas the director isn’t the world-weary, seen-it-all intellectual he presents. And Vanda is far more than the ditzy dumb street-walker that stumbles into the audition out of the rain. She’s actually a Kryptonite version of Mary Poppins, all-knowing in her own, er, unique way.

Venus in Fur goes back and forth, the two actors reading their lines and acting out the play within the play in this “audition” and their real-life dialogue and real-life actions.

The original playwright David Ives (not the 19th Century Sacher-Masoch, not the contemporary Thomas) must have had great fun writing this Rubik’s Cube of a script.

It works on so many levels, and at each level, Ives mercilessly presses on the funny bone. 

There’s the shattering of pretense and presentation, silliness arching into wisdom, down-home reality moving into the realms of mysterious female deities and the eternally delightful subject of the battle of the sexes.

Plus it’s sexy, and lays out a rationale for the strange practice of sado-masochism – in the 19th Century novel, the protagonist is so deeply in love, he convinces his haughty lover that his love can only be truly demonstrated by being her utter slave. To which she takes full advantage.

Kudos to director James MacDonald and these relative new-comers to the Edmonton stage, Hawley and Cavanagh, for they have nailed this script. Which is high praise. For all its zaniness, it’s a complex and difficult play. In lesser hands, it could easily have fallen apart.

Alana is magnificently hilarious as the crazy-like-a-fox Vanda – body language gone berserk! But there’s the abrupt surprise of Vanda’s going into character as the oh-so-cool 19th century aristocrat who turns her lover into a slobbering wreck of submission.

At the same time, in “real” life (i.e. on the stage) is moving in the same direction.   It also helps that Hawley (a U of A  acting grad) has the looks, the legs and the acting chops to convince us that Vanda is a true seductress. 

Jamie Cavanagh has been working in Edmonton theatre for several years, and has been earning a stellar reputation with every role he tackles. This is a true breakthrough. Good on the artistic team at the Citadel for taking a chance on this talented but still young actor. 
Cavanagh has a deep understanding of the role of the initially pretentious Thomas, who’s slowly drawn to Vanda like a moth to flame, who devolves from haughtiness to horny-ness to submission.

It’s a fun, sexy, thought-provoking evening of theatre. One can only speculate on the ensuing discussion this show would generate – given many Citadel theatre-goers are long-married, comfortable-in-their-ways couples. And possibly resurrection of a little liveliness in the boudoir?  

Venus in Fur … whooo hoo!

Other reviews: 

Venus in Fur is marvelous, by Colin MacLean, Edmonton Sun

Venus in Fur a playful, flamboyant evening of theatre, by Liz Nicholls, Edmonton Journal