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Julita / October 01, 2017 / 0 Comments

Natalie Dormer strides into a rehearsal room in stiletto heels, kicks them off and proceeds to transform herself into… a dominatrix. It’s one of several guises Dormer assumes when she performs scenes from David Ives’s scorching play Venus In Fur. For 20 minutes, I’m transfixed as I watch the actress deliver a comic tour de force.

First, she plays a seemingly scatty, bag-lady of a Bronx actress called Vanda Jordan, who elbows her way into an audition. Then she’s in a dress, playing the cut-glass accented object of desire of an aristocrat. And then she’s off again, channelling Marlene Dietrich for a couple of seconds before finally settling on to a chaise longue and arranging her legs in various suggestive poses, in order to enslave the man who desires to be dominated by her.
Ives’s intense exploration of forbidden sex was a hit on Broadway several seasons ago. It starred Nina Arianda as Vanda and Hugh Dancy as Thomas, the contemporary stage director who has adapted Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s 19th-century novel Venus In Furs. Thomas is then forced to play out the sadomasochistic games within the piece by Vanda from the Bronx, as she assumes the various female roles.

The new production, which runs at the Theatre Royal Haymarket from October 6, is being directed by playwright Patrick Marber, who worked with Dormer when she starred in his play After Miss Julie at the Young Vic five years ago — the last time she trod the boards. David Oakes will play Thomas. Marber offers upmarket Jelly Babies all round and then asks his cast of two: ‘Shall we get on with it?‘ The play offers a beautiful commentary on the battle of the sexes.

For starters, when Vanda waltzes into the rehearsal room and opens her mouth, Thomas (the director) immediately assumes she’s a dumb blonde. ‘He has made a judgment on her in the first 30 seconds,’ says Dormer, who adds that Vanda is no dummy, and is soon running rings around Thomas. There must be more than a few folk who have underestimated Dormer herself, over the years. The actress reckons there are going to be some fascinating conversations in the bar after audiences have seen the play. ‘Someone’s going to say something in it was really sexist,’ she says. ‘And someone else is going to disagree with that — and there will be comments about what I wear.’Thomas is this cerebral young director — well informed, politically aware. But at the end of the day, we’re exploring a guy whose sexual penchant is that he’s attracted to this theme of submission and domination.

Dormer’s career is studded by an array of disparate characters, from savvy Queen Margaery Tyrell in Game Of Thrones to rebel Cressida in The Hunger Games to Lady Worsley in The Scandalous Lady W — a woman who was, as she points out, owned by her husband. ‘You’ve got this great juxtaposition in Venus In Fur, where Vanda is this sassy, emancipated woman who is then playing a character from a novel in 1870 who’s not allowed to be financially or emotionally independent. ‘Not long ago, Natalie visited Tanzania with a charity that was helping to end child marriage. ‘I was talking to young girls who are still the property of their fathers or their husbands. We can’t go backwards and give away what we’ve won.

I mentioned comments Dawn French made recently about her disappointment at the behaviour of some young women who go out and roll about drunk in the gutter. Is this what we battled to get the vote for, she lamented. ‘I think our mothers and grandmothers and great-grandmothers fought to give us choice,’ Natalie counters. ‘I think you can be Vanda Jordan and walk in wearing a patent leather corset, if that is what you have chosen. ‘Equally, you can burn your bra and not shave and do nothing but wear flats. It’s your choice. The empowerment is in the choice you made, and not that you felt compelled, by peer pressure, legality — or men.

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