Were critics overpowered by Venus in Fur?
Natalie Dormer and David Oakes star in the West End premiere production of David Ives' dark comedy
Daisy Bowie-Sell, WhatsOnStage
"The play is a quasi-fantastical two-hander set in an audition room where writer and director Thomas has hit the end of a very long day of auditioning for the lead female role in his new work, a stage adaptation of Venus in Furs, but he's got nowhere. Suddenly, with a flash of lightening and a crash of thunder, appears Vanda Jordan. A fast-talking, blond-haired, leather corset-wearing enigma who looks and sounds like Thomas's worst nightmare.
"Ultimately, David Ives' play is faintly ridiculous. Though the sexual positioning of both sides is often upturned, and you're kept on your toes non-stop as to who has one up on whom, there's no question on which character the gender clichés rest.
"Still, there's no denying that Natalie Dormer is an absolute gem of a performer and it is exceptionally enjoyable watching her jump suddenly from bolshy desperate actress to elegant European with barely a blink."
Lyn Gardner, Guardian
"Game of Thrones star Natalie Dormer is dominant in every way in this tricksy, mildly entertaining two-hander written by David Ives, in which 21st-century sexual politics meet 19th-century S&M.
"Ives' script wears its influences on its sleeve, whether it's The Bacchae, Strindberg's Miss Julie or the dangerous dressing-up games of Genet's The Maids. In the showier role, Dormer negotiates the switches in mood with real virtuosity, but it is never quite the engrossing power struggle it might be, because Oakes' Thomas is such a bland chap.
"From the moment Vanda arrives dressed in a revealing black corset and bends over offering Thomas an eye-popping glimpse of her bottom, the audience's gaze is also his gaze – and therefore the male gaze."
Dominic Cavendish, Daily Telegraph
"Ninety minutes in the company of Natalie Dormer on stage at the Theatre Royal Haymarket and I'm her slave. She could even command me to watch (non-stop) six seasons of Game of Thrones (in which she starred as Margaery Tyrell, the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, before being bumped off the series last year) and I, the most unpersuaded of the unconverted, would be game on."
"With [Patrick] Marber directing her here (with a beautiful set by Rob Howell), she's sensational once more playing the mysterious Vanda, a brassy New York actress bursting with hope, confidence and much else besides.
"Marber treads a fine line on the titillation front, having Vanda slip between costumes with ambiguous suggestiveness, in full view of the audience. And that goes hand in glove with the theme of the piece: who's calling the shots, men or women? Except that Ives's script is so busy critiquing the empowerment and eroticism it plays with that it winds up tying itself in knots. "
Dominic Maxwell, The Times
"There is more pain than pleasure to be had from this two-handed play about sadomasochism, gender politics and being a bit of a misguided male douche bag. The acting, though, is very much a pleasure.
"Natalie Dormer and David Oakes act the hell out of this 90-minute piece, but I'm not convinced it's worth their while. Sure, there's a frisson as these two sexy young actors lock eyes. Yet for all the intelligence here, all the twists, too much of it is a kind of psychosexual York Notes about the original.
"Patrick Marber's production is beautifully staged and Rob Howell's set, with a skylight to let us see the lightning flashes — yes, it's a dark and stormy night — is handsome, yet it's hard to care much about any of this."
Natasha Tripney, The Stage
"David Ives' Venus in Fur is as much about power as it is about sex. More precisely it's about power in the audition room – recent revelations inevitably give it a queasy relevance.
"Patrick Marber's production is not exactly subtle. Thunder rumbles above Rob Howell's simultaneously grand and dilapidated New York loft apartment set. It's trying to be this smart, playful metatextual exercise but it also wants to titillate. It basically wants to have its whip-shaped cake and eat it.
"And whether or not she occupies the 'power spot' on the stage, Vanda – and by extension Dormer – still spends the majority of the production striding around in a PVC corset and suspenders while Oakes doesn't so much as undo a shirt button. The real victor in all this is, as ever, the male gaze."
Venus in Fur runs at Theatre Royal Haymarket until 9 December.