It's been recently asked, why are 19th-century pieces re-worked, dissected and performed all over Melbourne these days?, and I can only quote in response that 19th century art was
paintings in a succession of new styles, which saw the world in different ways, and a flood tide of novels and poetry depicting the struggles of modern men and women in their search for identity, love and meaning – from Madame Bovary to J. Alfred Pruftock, Lady Chatterley and Dean Moriarty. (Richard Florida, of all people!)
19th century was the beginning of modernism, and of doubts. Whereas 18th century reads like a collection of pamphlets (and I say again: de Sade first among equals), everyone was so positivist and certain, 19th century was the beginning of that earnest, modernist, search for answers. To the extent that very often it doesn't matter what the author's personal conclusion was: the journey remains fresh and untainted by answers. That Ana Karenjina was composed as Tolstoj's manifesto for humble marital collaboration, that Ana's character was conceived as the accusatory portrait of a person of weak morals, does not mean much today, and certainly does not cloud the extraordinarily sympathetic depiction of a woman looking for meaning of life, as things were, in romance.
Neal Harvey's triumphal adaptation of what could have been a very daggy little relict of someone else's erotica completely understands this point: Venus in Furs, currently playing at Theatreworks, steps carefully around sex and fetish, to outline this search for the best way to love and be in love. We are as concerned with the ways we relate to people now as we were in 1800s, and this play speaks of and to our time.
My review of Venus in Furs is now available online at vibewire.net. It tries to talk with the play, rather than of the play, which is always what I'm looking to find in a review.
Venue: Theatreworks, 14 Acland Street, St Kilda
Dates: 2-18 May
Times: Tues – Sat @ 8.00pm; Sun @ 6.00pm
Tickets: Adults $25, Concession $20
Bookings: (03) 9534 3388, www.theatreworks.org.au