sun 21/07/2024

Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Donmar Warehouse | reviews, news & interviews

Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Donmar Warehouse

Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Donmar Warehouse

Christopher Hampton's adaptation of a deadly 18th century classic triumphs again

Card-sharpers in love: Dominic West as Valmont and Janet McTeer as the Marquise de MerteuilAll images by Johann Persson

The last time I saw Janet McTeer, she was doing her best with the slightly underwritten role of sister to Glenn Close’s lethal Patty Hewes in Damages, the ultimate TV series about the discrepancy between seeming and being. Which is the theme, too, of Christopher Hampton’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses, adapted from Choderlos de Laclos’ peerless epistolary novel.

Close was unforgettable as the manipulative Marquise de Merteuil in the film version, so it’s good to report that McTeer, back in the West End after too long an absence, equals her achievement and has a Valmont as charismatic in his way as John Malkovich in this latest, strongly-cast vindication of a great play.

Timeless as the feelings, and apparent lack of them, behind the actions certainly are, the drama can’t be removed from the salons of late 18th century, pre-revolutionary Paris. Almeida Artistic Director Josie Rourke makes us eavesdroppers on a series of eloquent dialogues in various rooms under candlelit chandeliers, taking a cue from the the key component in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse’s intimate atmosphere. Layers of pictures against the back wall lead us from the sensuous scene of Diana and Actaeon after Titian to a floral still life, then a series of portraits, then nothingness as the chandeliers are lowered and the candles snuffed out for the cold, comfortless denouement.

Elaine Cassidy as Madame de TourvelWhether this strikes as deep and terrible as it might is debateable. It may be a deliberate choice that Dominic West’s Vicomte de Valmont makes little distinction between the urgent blandishments that never take “no” for an answer and a man truly in love for the first time; perhaps he’s got the seeming off to such a tee that we never know when he’s still play-acting. West stumbled a bit on the first night, but the well-modulated speaking voice is certainly seductive. McTeer is compelling from the first line, all dark velvet in the lower register of the voice to match her gorgeous silks and tall command, but never stagey. She might need to project just a little more in the intimate surroundings, although they pay dividends in that the actors never have to force. Above all, there’s a compelling sense of a woman channeling her supreme intelligence into the only field society allows her, subverting the woman’s "natural" role in pleasing the man.

This terrifying pair of card-sharpers with words, one-time lovers who’ve forgotten what it is to love until it’s too late, rise to the challenge of the climactic confrontation, each wielding the deadly refrain “it’s beyond my control” with daggers to our hearts – and to the tender soul of the fallen Madame de Tourvel (pictured above), Elaine Cassidy taking the place of the original choice, Downton’s recently-bereaved Michelle Dockery, with candour and a convincing wilt that makes us believe this will be the death of her.

Morfydd Clark and Janet McTeerWith the possible exception of the mannered angle taken by Theo Barklem-Biggs as Valmont’s devious valet Azolan, the rest of the cast is superlative. Morfydd Clark (pictured left with McTeer) has pluck and sweetness as Cécile Volanges,the teenage object of Valmont’s easier seduction, and Adjoa Andoh as her mother pierces the soul with her brief but vivid final description of Madame de Tourvel’s last days. Edward Holcroft matches Clark for character as Cécile's puppyish young would-be lover, and we’re always willing to go with the tittering charm of Una Stubbs, making something of Madame de Rosemonde.

The vague sense that this could all go farther is compounded by the generic music in scene-changes, led by soprano Alison Arnopp as the maid Julie; what lies beyond the spirited deceptions remains untouched in the sound-sphere. Maybe the ultimate suffering will deepen as the run beds in, but meanwhile you’ll not forget the vivid stage pictures of the confrontations between McTeer and West as game-players who end up not knowing where to draw the line.

McTeer is compelling from the first line, all dark velvet in the lower register of the voice


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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