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A CurtainUp London Review
Les Liaisons Dangereuses
This is a pretty production, simply set with a multipurpose chaise-longue which converts to a bed as and when necessary and with mob capped servants to carry out the numerous scene changes on the Playhouse's circular revolving set. Cut glass chandeliers rise and fall (as do the heaving bosoms) to create differing rooms as silk skirts and embroidered coats create plush period atmosphere.
If only the performances were as sparkling as the chandeliers then we would have had a luminescent night in the theatre. Emilia Fox alone of the principals is excellent as the virtuous woman, La Presidente de Tourvel, the ultimate object of seduction, the task Valmont sets himself alongside the seduction of a virgin bride set by his handler, La Marquise. Jared Harris is very disappointing in the role. Rosy faced and red haired, he physically doesn't fit the bill as the great seducer. Maybe he would have been helped by a powdered wig and white face makeup with the odd patch? His voice has an almost lisp-like quality to it and the sotto voce way he speaks Hampton's dry witty lines sounds merely querulous. I feel that although Valmont behaves in the worst possible way he has to be smooth and attractive, sexy and sophisticated. Polly Walker too, although she is very pretty, did not really convey the base, vengeful maliciousness of the Marquise's empty existence.
The second half moves at a better pace than the first and the duel scene is choreographed to perfection. Harris is more at home when he is called upon to be plain nasty than when he is beguiling or confused by the love he really feels for La Tourvel. Olivia Llewellyn is enthusiastic as Cecile, the virgin Valmont seduces. How interesting that blondes in 18th century France had a reputation for chastity. Plus ça change. . . Ce n'est pas la même chose! Emilie (Jayne Ashbourne) the prostitute gives us an earthy scene as Valmont composes a letter leaning on her attractive rump.
If Les Liaisons Dangereuses is an accurate picture of the depravity of French aristocratic society before the revolution, then I have more than a little sympathy with les sans culottes. Ironic name that in this context. The closing scene gave us a blinding flash of light and the unmistakable sound of a falling blade on a privileged neck, a reminder of what is to come. Maybe it would have been better to guillotine this production of Christopher Hampton's play. I'm going to get out the movie to expunge the memory.
Editor's Note: A very successful and musical adaptation of Les Liaisons Dangereuses premiered at Barrington Stage in the Berkshires last summer. It had a wonderful cast, a smart score and with luck, the director and company artistic director will see to it that it reaches a wider audience before too long. For a review of this musical version, renamed The Game, go here.
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