Since Venus in Fur’s conception in 2010, society has become less tolerant of gender inequalities, with discussions about power imbalances – particularly in the workplace – a frequent part of public discourse.

Because of  this, director Daniel Lammin and his talented cast have taken what was traditionally characterised as a comedy and, instead, produced a challenging, thought-provoking piece of theatre that demonstrates how the themes in Venus in Fur are no longer funny.

David Ives’ play follows Thomas (Wil King), a playwright searching for an actress for the lead role of Wanda von Dunajew in his new show. Thomas’s play is a stage adaptation of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s scandalous 1870 novel Venus in Fur, from which the term “masochism” was derived.

The playwright appears to have lost hope in his casting pursuit until a beautiful, charismatic young actress by the name of Vanda Jordan (Bridget Gao-Hollitt) waltzes into a last-minute audition. This sees the two characters act out the entirety of Thomas’s play. Over the next 90 minutes, Vanda dripfeeds information about herself which sparks a battle for dominance between director and actor, man and woman.

Bridget Gao-Hollitt as Vanda Jordan in Venus in Fur at Holden Street Theatres.

Gao-Hollitt has audiences transfixed for the entire production. She so brilliantly transitions between Vanda the actress, with hair is in space buns and who appears in BDSM lingerie and knee-high boots, and Wanda, the character in Thomas’s play, wearing an 1870 floor-length dress, representing his apparent ideal version of femininity.

King offers an equally compelling performance, as they portray the complex and disturbing unravelling of a misogynistic director who has a severe lack of self-awareness. The most mesmerising aspect of the production is the chemistry between Gao-Hollitt and King – this dynamic alone is enough to keep audiences enthralled throughout this dialogue-heavy production.

As Vanda and Thomas act out the play, they move between themselves and the characters within the script. Eventually this distinction dissolves, begging the question as to whether an artist can truly be separated from their art. These transitions are visually reflected by a subtle lighting change, designed by Matt Ralph: warm, yellow light when Thomas and Vanda are reading the script, and a harsh white light when they are interacting with each other.

This rendition of Venus in Fur is a deeply affecting piece of theatre that subverts our pre-conceived ideas about imbalanced societal structures, dominance and submission. Most importantly, this production asks questions about directorial and creative agency, and insists that morality can never be dismissed in the name of art.

Venus in Fur is at Holden Street Theatres until March 20.

Read more 2022 Adelaide Fringe stories and reviews here.

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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.