Known for its exploration of power dynamics, control, and the mysterious allure of femininity, Company O is preparing their take on David Ives’ production Venus in Fur. The production is a play-within-a-play focused on writer-director Thomas Novacheck, who is casting for his new play, an adaptation of the 1870 novel Venus in Fur by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (who inspired the term “masochism”), when a mysterious actress, Vanda, appears for an audition. In Company O’s staging, Andrew O’Connell steps into a dual role he knows well as both director and actor, performing alongside Codey Finlay.
Taking on the role of Vanda, Codey has been on what she describes as a grueling journey in preparation for this role, ready to delve deeper as a performer. “I wanted to go where I hadn’t gone before,” she says. “Company O has always been about challenging the actors and pushing them to their limits. It’s been confronting but, in a good way, it has been personally transformative.”
Codey explains she had to confront personal truths to fully embody the character of Vanda (who ultimately reveals herself as the goddess Venus), as she remains unphased by past traumas. “I had to get to a point where I’m not affected by these things in my past anymore.”
“I thank Andrew and Company O for giving me a good safe space to feel comfortable.”
Codey Finlay and Andrew O’Connell rehearsing Venus in Fur.
From the beginning of the process, Andrew encouraged a candid dialogue with Codey about the show’s challenging topics. “I said to Codey at the outset that there are a lot of themes in this play, and I want to be able to talk to you frankly about them,” he explains.
Andrew emphasises the need for Vanda to maintain an air of mystery and a degree of coldness to keep audiences guessing about her true nature. Ultimately making for a more satisfying revelation when her true identity is revealed. “There’s always something not quite right about the character of Vanda. There’s always that question being generated like yes, she’s crazy, but something about her is not.”
“There’s an undercurrent of feminine cosmic power.”
Delving further into his approach for this production, Andrew says he’s been informed by the work of psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung, which has helped him explore the interplay between masculine and feminine energies within the piece.
“[Jung] says there’s always a balance of the masculine and feminine, and it’s never resolved.” Andrew views the character of Thomas as a man who has allowed his masculine side to dominate, and Vanda disrupts his world because of this.
Codey Finlay rehearses Venus in Fur.
Company O is renowned for choosing distinctive and unexpected venues for their productions. In the case of Venus in Fur, Friday Studio is a space that seems almost tailor-made for the play. Andrew explains, “It’s like a New York loft style,” and it effectively sets the tone for the production. “It will give the sense of people being in Thomas’s audition room.”
Codey has worked behind the scenes with Company O since 2020, picking up a range of roles including stage management. When looking at the space for the first time with both her technical and acting expertise in mind, she knew it would be perfect. “I looked at Andrew and said, ‘Yes, I can see it all happening’.”
“It’s quite amazing how its simplicity can be so transformative. It’s almost a reflection of Thomas’s mind.”
Andrew describes the venue’s atmosphere as physically comfortable yet impersonal with its exposed brick and stripped-back walls. “We want the audience to be comfortable physically, but we don’t want the audience to settle back; there’s a bit of discomfort emotionally.”
Codey explains that both the play and the venue fit Company O’s intention of “challenging audiences intellectually, existentially, and emotionally.” Both she and Andrew agree they are eager to see how audiences will respond to their portrayal of the masculine and feminine dynamic. “I want audiences to be challenged by the chaos; it doesn’t just relate to women but also to men as well,” says Codey. Andrew adds, “I want people to see the overwhelming feminine power that comes from a more cosmic place.”
Company O’s production of Venus in Fur opens Thursday 16 November and runs through to Sunday 19 November.