Review: Les Liaisons Dangereuses
Make no mistake: Les Liaisons Dangereuses is an intensely interesting production. The cast, featuring Pamela Rabe and Hugo Weaving, is a cracker, writes Veronica Hannon.
I have to say the French are very good at pleasure. The pair of amoral aristocrats at the centre of Christopher Hampton’s mid-80s play, adapted from the pre-revolutionary novel by Choderlos de Laclos, appear as if they might be shaped by the prospect of physical enjoyment. These seducers use the promise of pleasure as a weapon to sexually humiliate and degrade their prey. They are most definitely dangerous animals and staging the play in Wharf 1 lets the audience get up close and personal, while at the same time being protected by the fourth wall.
Les Liaisons Dangereuses is a great adaptation. It is an icy and ironic take on the original novel which was composed entirely of fictional letters written between people belonging to the idle nobility. The play has been widely produced and went Hollywood in the late 80s with a lavish film version starring John Malkovich, Glenn Close and Michelle Pfieffer.
It makes perfect sense then, after the play has seen so many productions, to do away with the powdered wigs and gorgeous satins and focus more on what lies beneath the ruffles. I must admit having never seen a production I was more than happy to be cast back into the 18th Century. I was ready to encounter another world being tired of this one. But I accept that director Sam Strong wants to extend our expectations and his production in modern dress unquestionably draws our attention to the text and the actors.
That said, I found myself wondering why characters known to pay such attention to surface detail were dressed so, well, off the rack. I was similarly distracted by the ugly grey carpet that marred the otherwise elegant neo-classical style interiors evoked by the set design.
But make no mistake: this is an intensely interesting production. This cast is a cracker. Pamela Rabe and Hugo Weaving are beautifully matched opponents. I felt watching Rabe I might be watching the Merteuil of a lifetime. She is always intriguing and never comes close to sentimentalising this fine-minded, manipulative sexual predator. And Weaving as Valmont proves to be virtuoso of persuasion.
Grab a ticket if you can.
Sydney Theatre Company, Wharf 1, Until 9 June. Bookings: 02 9250 1777 or go to www.sydneytheatre.com.au