Dramatist Christopher Hampton’s adaption of this 18th century French masterpiece is witty, wise and wonderfully crafted. It has also been well interpreted by director John Boyce and his talented cast. They have mined its rich veins of human insights, interlacing characters and ambiguities to deliver a powerful performance that satisfies on many levels.
The play is billed around its core themes of lust, seduction and betrayal and two thoroughly deplorable characters, Mme La Marquise de Merteuil (Natasha Yantsch) and Le Vicomte de Valmont (Timothy Wotherspoon). They engage each other in a game of lustful and hurtful pursuit. The raffish de Valmont is challenged by de Merteuil to seduce 15 year old, virginal Cecille (Julia-Anna Evans) as revenge against the man to whom Cecille is betrothed.
But de Valmont is bored by such simple seductions. They no longer excite him. So he also sets himself a more difficult task, the seduction of the young, married and saintly Mme de Tourvel (Michelle Milne). The prize, should he succeed, is a night with de Merteuil, a former lover who continues to intrigue him.
Contrived as that all sounds, it provides an excellent platform for exploring many aspects of the human condition and the games people play. Tragedy is an inevitable consequence of such mean intent and in the end it is really all about power…. the power to seduce and the power to manipulate and control others.
De Merteuil, like the audience, thrills in “watching the battle between love and virtue” as de Valmont becomes smitten with his prey, Mme de Tourvel. Yet, through it all, he remains in de Merteuil’s thrall. He presses his case for sex he implores her that because they are so alike they should be together.
But, she rebuffs him: “cardsharps sit at separate tables”. There is some fantastic repartee in this play.
Les Liaisons Dangereuses has been well cast. They all do a good job. Timothy Wotherspoon is excellent in the demanding role of de Valmont. So too are Natasha Yantsch as de Merteuil, Michelle Milne as de Tourvel and Julie-Anna Evans as the young seductee Cecille.
Even the actors playing smaller roles like Stephen Davies as de Valmont’s valet and Racheal Leigh Johnson as the courtesan Emile have a real presence and enliven the show with their exuberance. Another to impress is Diane O’Bierne in the modest, but pivotal role of Mme De Rosmonde, de Valmont’s wise and worldly aunt.
The stage design also works well. It is minimalist and functional, shifting easily from one venue to another. The performance is also enhanced by Michael Dare’s bold lighting design.