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Tuesday, October 2, 2012


(Neil Coppen and Janna Ramos-Violante)

Triumph on all four counts for KickstArt. (Review by Caroline Smart)

KickstArt’s latest production, Venus in Fur, premiered at The Witness Hilton Arts Festival last weekend and marks another fine milestone for this multi-award-winning company. Now running at Seabrooke’s Theatre at DHS, this excellent production is seen to much better advantage in this more intimate theatre venue, allowing the audience to feel part of the action where every tiny nuance of mood or expression can be appreciated.

It’s a triumph on all four counts. Steven Stead’s immaculate direction pulls the maximum effect in both dramatic and humorous qualities from this multi-layered script by David Ives. Top notch performances from Janna Ramos-Violante and Neil Coppen. All presented on Greg King’s clean-cut set which faithfully produces the feel of a downmarket studio hired for an audition process.

The weather is stormy. Thunder claps and lighting fill the air – an indication of the fireworks to come.

The play takes as its base, the novella Venus in Fur, by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch which was published in 1870 and inspired the term “masochism”. Its central character is Wanda von Dunajew, modelled after an emerging literary character of the time. This manuscript tells of a man who is so infatuated with her that he asks to be her slave, and encourages her to treat him in progressively more degrading ways.

Fast-track to present day. Thomas has just finished an exhausting day interviewing actresses who have been auditioning for the lead character of Wanda in his adaptation of von Sacher-Masoch’s novel. He is on the phone to his fiancĂ©e, bemoaning the fact that he’s just interviewed 35 women, most of them “without a particle of brain in their skull”.

His eagerly-awaited departure from the studio is shattered when the door flies open and in bursts a volatile, straight-talking, pushy actress called … Vanda! What follows is a fascinating process as the audition takes place with the actress seeming to know more about the novel and the people in it than he does. She also does a very amusing set of voice warm-ups!

The actors move in and out of present-day speech back to the script which is set in 1870. This requires both actors to change from modern rhythms and colloquialisms – Vanda’s speech is expressively colourful! – to the more contained and dignified language of the times. Coppen adopts a European accent and Ramos-Violante becomes classic English (a la Downton Abbey) and then sports a German accent in a hilarious scene where she plays the muse of Aphrodite.

The love of fur plays a strong role. There are electric moments that build to breaking point before being broken by Vanda’s irrepressible comments. Janna Ramos-Violante and Neil Coppen do full justice to the demands of the script, giving two of the finest dramatic performances we have seen on the local drama circuit. It is also a great pleasure to see Neil Coppen back in an acting capacity.

Venus in Fur runs at Seabrooke’s Theatre until October 14. Booking is at Computicket. For more information contact 031 201 1638. This play challenges the intellect - what a pleasure! Don’t miss it if you like excellent drama! – Caroline Smart