National Theatre Live’s new production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses is both worrying and enjoyable.
The play’s story-line engenders the angst while the acting and script provide the entertainment.
Based on the 1792 novel by Frenchman Choderlos de Laclos, Les Liaisons Dangereuses tells of two French aristocrats who use sex as an instrument of revenge. The Marquise de Merteuil challenges her ex-lover, the Vicomte de Valmont, to seduce the convent-reared, 15-year-old Cecile. The Marquise’s motive is simply to get her own back on Cecile’s fiancé who dumped her.
While Valmont tricks Cecile and thus easily accomplishes his challenge, his prime target is Madame de Tourvel, the loyal wife of a provincial magistrate. Valmont initially just wants to seduce Tourvel, but ends up falling in love with her with tragic consequences.
The new production, from London’s Donmar Warehouse Theatre, is showing in selected cinemas around Australia as part of the National Theatre’s initiative to broadcast live English theatrical performances around the world.
I hadn’t seen the play before , although I have seen Dangerous Liaisons – the movie based on the book, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. While not as explicit as the movie it’s still very confronting especially when you consider the motivation of the Marquise and Valmont – the use of sex for revenge and the infliction of pain and humiliation for personal entertainment.
The dialogue and performances of the actors are such that you find yourself smiling when really you shouldn’t be – after all lives are ruined.
Leads Janet McTeer (Marquise), Dominic West (Vicomte) and Elaine Cassidy (Tourvel) do a great job in showing the insecurities and motives of their characters.
Both the book and this play (written by Christopher Hampton) are set in pre-revolutionary France. The action takes place in a chateau which gradually becomes more decrepit. This reflects the end of the era of French nobility privilege – and the attitude and behaviour of the Marquise and Vicomte.
As with all National Live broadcasts one of the joys of attending Les Liaisons Dangereuses is the chance to see one of London’s most talked about and critically acclaimed plays in Australia. The broadcast also includes an interview with McTeer, West, Hampton and director Josie Rourke.
Les Liaisons Dangereuses is screening in cinemas around Australia from April 9. The National Theatre Live and Sharmill Films websites have more details on participating cinemas.
Jenny Burns attended a preview of Les Liaisons Dangereuses as a guest of Sharmill Films.
*Photo credits: Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Hampton, writer – Christopher Hampton, director – Josie Rourke, designer – Tom Scutt, lighting – Mark Henderson, The Donmar Warehouse, 2015, Photographer: Johan Persson.
- movies, national theatre live, review
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