A CurtainUp London Review
Les Liaisons Dangereuses
Les Liaisons Dangereuses was adapted for the stage thirty years ago by Christopher Hampton from Pierre Cloderlos de Laclos' 1782 four volumes of letters between the characters in the play. The principals are la Marquise de Merteuil (Janet McTeer) and le Vicomte de Valmont (Dominic West). They are ex-lovers and conspire to seduce and ruin others taking pleasure in depravity.
The particular challenge for Valmont is the virtuous wife Madame de Tourvel (Elaine Cassidy) who is friendly with his aunt Madame de Rosemonde (Una Stubbs). The difference to his challenge is that he wants her to fall in love with him not just to be seduced. La Mertreuil wants to humiliate Cecile de Volanges (Morfydd Clark), the daughter of a friend, by getting this virginal convent girl seduced by Valmont before she marries Mertreuil's ex-lover. They are a nasty pair.
Our first impression is the set by Tom Scutt. As if someone is moving out, there are furniture and paintings covered by silk like transparent drapes. Paintings stacked up against the wall but most striking are the chandeliers with real candles, and instead of being hung with clear crystal, the drops are dark rubies. It is as if the chandeliers are dripping blood. The set must be alluding to the proximity of the French Revolution just seven years away.
We don't know whether Laclos had this premonition about the revolution when writing the novels which has since been used to illustrate the corruption of the French aristocracy, but certainly uppermost in my mind at the interval, was to welcome the forthcoming revolution if it would rid us of degenerates like Valmont and Mertreuil. It is said that the Austrian queen Marie Antoinette read and enjoyed the letters. I think I was more horrified than amused by these conspiratorial destroyers of others' lives.
Janet McTeer is very elegantly evil as Madame de Mertreuil. She air kisses her female acquaintances and takes the ingenue Cecile ostensibly under her protection and acts as the go between for Cecile's romance with a young man, le Chevalier Danceny (Edward Holcroft) while enabling Valmont's seduction or rape of Cecile. She is lupine in the role and really quite sinister.
The female parts are the strongest. Elaine Cassidy is perfectly cast as the demure country wife Madame de Tourvel. She has a sweet innocence and holds out against Valmont. She is contrasted by Jennifer Saayeng's courtesan Emilie who pleasures Valmont with abandon.
Dominic West was not word perfect at the matinee when I saw the play and it is his character which has to show the emptiness of a life reaching for sexual thrills. Les Liaisons Dangereuses is a surprisingly modern play. It is being broadcast to cinemas by NT Live on January 28th in the UK and later in the US.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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