Venus (i)n Furs


Posted by in September's Magazine

For those of you that stayed away from the madness of the Fringe, site-specific theatre was everywhere. Literally. From a one-on-one bedroom speed dating encounter at The Point in Ontroerend Goed’s Internal; getting drunk in The Barony with Grid Iron in Barflies; to Mark Watson’s The Hotel in a purpose-built venue on Queen Street, interactive productions, based within their surroundings were big news.

But this wasn’t just happening up town. Pauline Lockhart and Jenny Ryan, actresses and Leithers, brought their own brand of site-specific work to the corner of Ferry Road. Venus n Furs, the company they formed just a few months ago, gave two performances of the latest version of their devised work, The Violet Hour. Set just behind Leith Library and Registry Office, in and around the impressive curved art deco loggia of the now sadly disused Leith Theatre.

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“I live in the area and was keen to base the piece here,” says Pauline Lockhart. “I’ve always found Leith Library fascinating because it seems out of place from the surroundings.” What is equally striking is how secluded and quiet the site is. As the audience followed the action of The Violet Hour on foot, between the theatre’s heavy stone columns, the noise from the road seemed to fade away.

But this could just be because of the play. We are told the story of one man’s relationship with two very different women, his devoted wife and a Velvet Underground-esque ‘whiplash girlchild’ such as the company name promises. The script, which was devised by the company, is inspired by its surroundings and makes direct and deliberate references to its location. We begin our journey at the registry office and follow the actors past a parked car and through an overgrown garden to the library. On paper these settings might seem disparate, but the situations in which the characters find themselves are held together by the compact nature of the space.

Without a strong storyline, site-specific productions can seem slaves to their locations, superficial and gimmicky. Not so for The Violet Hour. The novelty associated with an outdoor, promenade production and the beauty of its location has been embraced without standing in the way of presenting characters that demand their audience’s engagement and consideration, and this is to the company’s credit. What makes this production strong is the sense that the narrative could, with some slight tweaking, take place almost anywhere.

Despite sounding all highbrow, the decision to stage a site-specific piece was not simply based on a bunch of actors being arty-farty:
“It had a bit to do with the credit crunch,” says Lockhart. “Actors are looking for work like everyone else and this format was accessible and relatively cheap to produce.”

However, creating theatre yourself comes with new responsibilities in terms of who’s going to pay for it:
“This is a new thing for us – we have to worry about funding for the first time ever. Usually as an actor you take a job and somebody else deals with the funding.”

But fortunately for Venus n Furs, things are looking promising on that score. The Arts Council has already got wind of the project, and funding for further development could be in the offing.

But for now, after just thirty minutes, The Violet Hour is up. This is still a work in progress but, if current form is anything to go by, this could become an impressive piece of dramatic storytelling, which is uniquely ‘Leith’. Word has it our local MSP is a fan, and, with support mounting for the refurbishment and reopening of Leith Theatre, perhaps Venus n Furs are the people to bring this building to life both inside and out.

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