On a rainy Thursday evening a couple of weeks ago, I left my house for Neues Schauspiel Leipzig in Lindenau, to watch the rehearsal of Venus in Fur.
The word “masochism” comes from Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, who wrote the book Venus in Furs in 1870. The main character, Severin Kusiemski, falls madly in love with Wanda van Dunajew, and persuades her to become his slave.
In 2010, David Ives adapted the novel into a play. Since then, the play has won many awards and has become the most performed play in the world.
Thanks to the English Theatre Leipzig, Venus in Fur is hitting the stage in Leipzig this week.
Directed by Florian Dedio, who happens to have also adapted his own version of the novel in the past, this play in a play explores female dominance and male submissiveness.
When I get to the rehearsal, Peter Seaton-Clark apologises because it’s not completely ready yet. The lights are not quite sorted out and the actors are not sure that they have mastered the script.
But, when the lights go down, I am immediately transported into Thomas Novatchek’s mancave, a theater director who has directed three unthriving plays before (look for the posters on stage). Thomas (played by Seaton-Clark) has adapted Sacher-Masoch’s novel Venus in Furs into a play.
He is casting for the lead role of Wanda, but after a long day of casting, he complains on the phone about the mediocrity of all the actresses he had seen. Out of nowhere appears Vanda (played by Madlen Meyer). She is all that Thomas hates in actresses (and let’s face it, in women) today, but somehow, she convinces him to cast her.
Suddenly, the magic happens. Vanda becomes Wanda and Thomas becomes obsessed with her. But where does she really come from?
Who really dominates whom?
The roles are swapped, and the one who thought was in control becomes the submissive one. The play denounces the objectification of women but at the same time reproduces those patterns of objectification. The sharp contrast between Thomas and Vanda produces a playful humor, but as the play unfolds, the spectator is drawn towards the darkest places of our heroes.
The two actors (who did not know each other before) have done an amazing job in bringing their characters to life. Their chemistry on stage is real. Peter, Madlen and Florian were kind enough to talk to me about the play after a two hour rehearsal, which was exhausting for them and wonderful for me.
What were the challenges of this particular play?
For Madlen, the fact that she is half naked for most of it was at difficult at first. Also, both actors are continuously on stage for the whole two hours without interruption and the pace of the play is quite fast. Tension builds up until the final revelation. I loved the play so much that I completely lost all track of time.
English Theatre Leipzig presents
David Ives’ Venus in Fur
Neues Schauspiel Leipzig
Thur 23 March
24, 30, 31 March
7, 8 April
tickets 13€/9€ student & Leipzig Pass