Game of Thrones star and Richmond resident Natalie Dormer is swapping the wild of Westeros for the boards of the West End in Venus in Fur at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, in yet another simmering role
Words: Richard Aldhous
Natalie Dormer first found fame as scheming Anne Boleyn in sumptuous costume drama The Tudors; bodices tore once more BBC’s The Scandalous Lady W; and as Margaery Tyrell in Game of Thrones, she seduced and schemed in equal measure, right up to her dramatic exit from the hit HBO show.
So playing the lead in Venus in Fur, the Patrick Marber adaptation of David Ives’ critically acclaimed Broadway hit, is surely familiar ground for the beguiling Richmond-based star?
In the simmering and stirring play within a play, Dormer plays brash actress Vanda Jordan who is auditioning, in real-time, in a Downtown Manhattan rehearsal space for director Thomas Novachek. It is for a production based on the 1870 novel of the same name by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch – the very book that inspired the term ‘masochism’.
But what begins as a quite straight-forward script reading soon turns electric as boundaries between fiction and reality are blurred, and where sex and power become the order of the day.
‘This is a play full of contrasts and I think that’s something you have to go in with at the start,’ she says. ‘It’s a combination of sexiness and outrage, and is designed to keep the audience on edge. Of course that’s the intention, but for that to happen we have to be right on our game, so there’s a challenge there that I love the thrill of succeeding at – and this definitely felt like the right project at the right time.’
Self-assured, elegant and sensual, it’s no wonder the Reading-born star is so often cast as the seductress. But if you think Dormer is one-dimensional, think again. In Elementary she played Jamie Moriarty, the famous detective’s greatest nemesis, with a quiet and unsettling menace that so captivated both critics and fans of the American series they begged for more.
Dormer’s greatest transformation, however, was when she took on the role of Cressida, a gutsy freedom fighter who marches alongside Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss and helps spearhead a rebellion in the latter half of The Hunger Games movies, Mockingjay Parts 1 and 2. Sporting a half-shaved head that is boldly adorned with numerous tattoos and toting a rifle, the actorr proved once and for all that there is power beneath that pout.
I think roles like Cressida have changed the way I’m perceived, which is great because I want to be a part of this revolution in cinema where female characters are fully-formed and integral to storylines
‘I think roles like Cressida have changed the way I’m perceived, which is great because I want to be a part of this revolution in cinema where female characters are fully-formed and integral to storylines,’ enthuses Dormer. ‘Both Margaery and Cressida are women who are actively defining their lives and their journeys.
‘Even though Margaery has had several husbands, she’s never allowed herself to be defined by any of the men in her life. That shows how women can lead interesting, engaging lives apart from their romantic relationships. We need to keep sending that kind of message to young audiences and young women in particular.’
A graduate of London’s Webber Douglas, Dormer admits that her fearsome poise is not inherent, but something she nurtured out of necessity during a dry spell following her graduation. ‘It took me time before I was able to become more forceful.
‘I suffered from a lot of bullying in school and I needed to work on my confidence levels in my 20s,’ she says. ‘I’m much more open now and I’m pretty straight-forward. I think I keep gaining confidence every time I play these kinds of characters.’
It certainly takes guts to take on the role of Vanda, who spends much of her time strutting the stage in lingerie and heels, though Dormer is quick to clarify this is a look she won’t be wearing home on the tube post-performance. ‘It feels good, but everything in moderation,’ she laughs.
‘When you get me in sofa mode I’m all about the hoodie! Even being out and about in London, I’m not someone who wants to be glammed up all the time. Yes, there can be a photographer about when you least expect one, but London is for exploring and living in comfort.’
Venus in Fur is on at the Theatre Royal Haymarket until 9 December 2017. See trh.co.uk