Theatre Review: Venus in Fur

This review is long overdue but far from being undeserved. Two months ago, my partner and I went to see Karen Knox and Alexander McMorran performing at the very intimate stage of the Tristan Bates theatre.

Funded by a very successful Kickstarter campaign, the play was free and was a perfect example of how London can surprise us with little diamonds, just a few doors away from ostentatious and over-priced shows unable to garner the character of a cubic zirconia. At first, dropped in an almost shabby-chic decor, the actors led us into the false certitude that the play will be a lighthearted middle-class entertainment and that, albeit well executed, they will only toy with a standard clash of stereotypes: the air-head versus the misogynist, the newbie versus the mandarin, the hyperactive versus the blasé. All of this decorated by a few well-placed baubles of humour.

But very soon, Knox and McMorran let us peel off what is the ironic first layer of a delicious mille-feuille: all along the play, they channel different personalities as the plot leaps back and forward in time and through the lives of the authors and characters who inspired this superb play by David Ives. Through a stunning display of razor-sharp acting, the actors pull the audience into twist after twist without losing anybody along the way. At every metamorphosis, we discover a new relationship, a new balance of power, only to switch back to the previous one or the next one, but in any case, always before the arms of the scale had the time to stabilise.


The play has frequent and obvious references to fetishism and sadomasochism which are treated with elegance and (at least literary) experience. But while being a crucial point in the rapport between all the characters, these are merely spices that make the palpable sexual tension between the protagonists even more intense. Albeit deliciously titillating, nothing needs to be explicit (not that I would have objected). Everything shines through the dialogue and their subtle dance on the stage. Debussy used to say that music is the space between two notes. In the case of Venus in Fur, lust is the space between the bodies of the submissive and the dominant. And during a couple of breath-stopping silences and intenable locked glances, love burned in the space between their words.

Besides the whirlwind of tensions and passions, the play also conveys a few interesting commentaries about BDSM, fetishism, sex-positive feminism and self-discovery which do not feel bolted onto the dialogue and almost preempted my own musings during the performance.

In summary, a thought-provoking and highly entertaining play interpreted to perfection by two talented actors… Keep an eye on their next production!


Author: Phil Marti

French 40-something living in London. I will play the role of the Candide on this website. I have not much theatre experience but will provide an honest and naive opinion about the plays I've seen. I am the perfect touchstone if you want to drag a theatre-reluctant friend to the theatre. :-)