Receiving its first reading off-Broadway in 2010, David Ives’ Venus in Fur has very quickly become a favourite amongst theatre people for its masterful exploration of themes of gender, sexuality and dominance, all set within a play within a play atmosphere. Darlinghurst Theatre Company commenced performances of the play last week, and Theatre People were given the opportunity to interview one of the two actors holding up this fan favourite.
With the weight of a two person show resting comfortably on his shoulders, Gareth Reeves has stepped into the shoes of Thomas Novachek, the male lead of Venus in Fur. Speaking to him before his final dress rehearsal (the company is now nearly a week into regular performances), Mr Reeves addressed a certain amount of nervousness before bringing his work to an audience, and spoke of the way his rehearsal process has matured over past years. “I think I’m at a more comfortable time and place in my career now where previews are an opportunity to test some of my ideas, and that is especially important in a comedy like Venus in Fur… For all of the themes explored in our show, what we essentially have is a comedy, especially for Anna (Houston, Mr Reeves’ co-star) – she needs to know how far she can push things. We’ve made a pact with each other that for previews, we’re going to test a few ideas and be prepared to sail with them. In the past I’ve definitely played previews safe, but now I’m being much bolder and braver about testing ideas.”
Above: Anna Houston and Gareth Reeves in Venus is Fur. Photography credit to Helen White.
With the show taking place at an audition between an actor and a director, we were interested to find out if the rehearsal structure of the play was reflected in real life – had the analysis and understanding that takes place within the dialogue mirrored the way that the show was actually put together? “The structure of this show is a wormhole. I originally read for Thomas at an audition, so I was reading at an audition for a play about reading at an audition. Different actresses were coming in and all of their different ideas were thrown into the mix, which is exactly what happens during the show… It only felt stranger once we got into actual rehearsals. My character, a writer and director, learns so much about his characters by talking to Vanda, the auditioning actress throughout the play, and in the same way I learned a lot about Thomas by talking to my stage partner and our director.”
The levels of analysis of personality, gender and domination are constantly changing during Venus in Fur, and Mr Reeves believes that that is one of the reasons American audiences have catapulted the show into popularity in such a short period of time. “I believe we have a show that is going to pack a punch, and if we do our job, people will go to the bar and have different ideas and argue about what they saw and the agenda of the characters in the show. It’s one of those plays that is very easy to underestimate on your first read, and the more work you do on it the more you come to realise what a brilliant piece of writing it is.”
Photography credit to Helen White.
Looking at the breakdown of genders in the creative team, the first thing the audience notices is that there is a very strong showing of female creatives, with only the set construction role being credited to men. I asked Mr Reeves what it was like to work with a team of women on a play with such a strongly written female character, and he responded that having made most of his living in Shakespeare and television over the last few years, it was refreshing to be involved in a play with a character like Vanda. “I was generally the only man in the room during rehearsals, with a team of extraordinary women in creative roles. Off the top of my head, I don’t think I’ve been involved in a show with such a dominant female character before – though with the power struggle throughout the show and being in the shoes of my character I don’t necessarily see Vanda/Wanda as dominant. I haven’t done a play before that goes so deeply into gender politics.”
Asking him what originally drew him to the project, Mr Reeves had many a word to say about his co-star. “Leading up to rehearsals of the show I was so excited to get into the ring with Anna Houston. I know Anna and, Jesus, you know… You’ve gotta be on your toes, she’ll knock you out if you’re not looking!”
Why should audiences take the time to see Darlinghurst Theatre’s production of a play revered by many around the world? “We’ve put a lot of work into this show, and have ended up with a sharp, funny, dangerous, punchy play and know I’m going to be proud of it. Even if you’re not a fan of the fantastic material, then Anna Houston is something pretty special, so I’m excited that people will get to see her do her thing.”
Venus in Fur will run until July 5th, with season and ticketing information to be found at this link.