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Theatre review: Venus In Fur

Power play: Natalie Dormer and David Oakes PICTURES: DARREN BELL

REVIEW

Venus In Fur

Theatre Royal Haymarket ★★✩✩✩

WHAT a weirdly underwhelming show this is. Natalie Dormer, known to millions as Margaery Tyrell from Game Of Thrones, spends most of it in a leather basque and suspenders as Vanda, a kookily uninhibited downtown actress who has stumbled hours late into the loft of writer-director Thomas to audition for his new adaptation of a 19th-century erotic novel.

Not only is Vanda, despite her klutzy demeanour, word-perfect in the role — a proto-feminist femme fatale with a dominatrix streak — but she also knows rather a lot about Thomas’s fiancée, Stacey.

Quite what Vanda is up to in David Ives’s 2011 psychosexual comedy, directed by Patrick Marber (whose own hit 1997 drama Closer shares a similar interest in sexually-charged power play), is never made clear but the audience is invited to speculate on where the lines between creativity and fantasy, submission and control really lie.

Femme fatale: Dormer is mesmeric as the uninhibited Vanda

After the Harvey Weinstein allegations, there is something particularly thrilling in the way Dormer’s Vanda takes command of her audition, gradually forcing David Oakes’s precious Thomas into the role of quivering impotent, an artist at the mercy of his own desires.

Yet the play’s feminist overtones feel like empty flourishes, and despite Dormer’ fleshily mesmeric — and very funny — performance, there is precious little animal magnetism in the air.

You can’t blame Dormer and Oakes: for all its psychosexual pretensions, the play is about as dangerously erotic as a Tory party conference.

You get a sneaking suspicion the pair wish they could throw off all the talk about dog collars and go to the pub — they’d probably have a much better time, and so might you.