50 Shades of Grey swept the world into a fluster and kicked kink culture into the mainstream. Now, to sweep Christchurch into a fluster, The Court Theatre is bringing David Ives’ Venus in Fur onto the mainstage.

Ives’ lead character, Thomas Novacheck, is hoping to cash in on the wave of fetishism when he adapts an 1870 erotic novel for the stage. However, finding a leading lady is proving difficult. Then Vanda arrives – uncouth and unprepared with an uncanny connection to the role. What starts as an increasingly disastrous audition quickly turns into a game of dominance and desire which blurs the lines between fantasy and reality.

Venus in Fur is as intellectually stimulating as it is an act of seduction. Much like Vanda herself, the play is chameleon-like; shifting effortlessly from sexy to smart, intense to playful, comedic to mysterious.

The New York Times called Ives’ play a “psychodrama”, and a French reviewer described it as “a black comedy”. When asked which description was more accurate, Ives was quoted as saying “take your pick”. With its intriguing ambiguity, Venus in Fur found widespread appeal among audiences and critics alike; the “hot ticket” for theatres worldwide.

Director of Venus in Fur, Lara Macgregor, most recently directed the acclaimed season of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time at The Court Theatre. Going from a show with a large cast, extensive physical theatre components and stunning audio-visual elements, Macgregor is relishing “working with two actors, barely two costumes and one set” in “a play that celebrates the craft of acting”.

Finding two actors who fit the roles was no easy feat, and the audition process for Venus in Fur was a long one. “Connection and chemistry between the leads is crucial,” says Macgregor. “This play puts them to the physical and emotional test.”

Daniel Watterson and Jessie Lawrence recently appeared together as lovers in Q Theatre’s The Effect. Their on-stage chemistry made them the perfect pair to play Thomas and Vanda. “Ironically, Jessie and Daniel were the standout actors in the first round of auditions last December,” says Macgregor, “but it took many months and various combinations of personalities to come full circle back to casting them.”

Artistic Director of The Court Theatre, Ross Gumbley, chose Venus In Fur for The Court’s 2017-18 Season because “it’s a piece of contemporary theatre that’s on the edge. It’s intellectually smart, undeniably sexy and at its heart it looks at how the lines between acting and identity can be blurred. It’s a very exciting play for us to bring to the stage.”

The 1870 novel Venus in Furs follows a man surrendering himself to a woman to be dominated and abused; the author’s name, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, coined the term “masochism”. Ives set out to do a straightforward adaptation of the novel but found the idea of setting it around an audition – itself something of an exercise in submission and control – much more intriguing. Using the device of a play within a play allows Ives to explore the power struggle that can exist between prospective sexual partners.

Find out who ends up on top when Venus in Fur opens at The Court Theatre on 21 October 2017.