Dangerous Liaisons

Wed 2nd – Sat 5th May 2012

reviews

Annie Perrott

at 07:30 on 3rd May 2012

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When Christina Drollas’ adaptation of the 1782 French novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses ended, the audience were left with a sense of breathless expectancy. A climactic dual set against a spectacular backdrop had morphed into a final scene that failed to portray the harrowing sense of emptiness Drollas had clearly intended. That said, this disappointment was only so keenly felt by its failure to live up to the relentless, invigorating scheming and plot twists that had exhilarated the audience throughout the rest of the play.

The story itself lost nothing through Drollas’ choice to translate events from Paris in the 1780s to the 1930s. With a luxurious looking set, innovative atmospheric lighting and an on-stage grand piano, the change in period of the piece was set immediately. Music was provided by an omnipresent pianist and began five minutes before the play had started. Alice Porter, Claudia King and Amber Husain shortly join him on the stage where they silently partook in a game of cards before the house lights fell and the play officially began.

Regrettably, a poor choice of footwear detracts from the subtle acting of Alice Porter as The Marquise de Merteuil. Behind me I could hear murmurs drifting more towards ‘she looks like she’s gonna fall off of those’ as opposed to ‘isn’t she spectacular’. Yet spectacular she was. Porter artfully manages to convey with the slightest facial movements the simultaneous feelings of amusement and boredom with which her character views those around her. Unfortunately for Porter, Drollas’ decision to maintain a sense of ambiguity around the character of Merteuil, means she is acted off the stage by the overwhelming darkness portrayed by Ziad Samaha in the final scenes.

Indeed, Samaha’s portrayal of the Vicomte de Valmont was nothing short of a masterpiece. His slow transformation from a dapperly corrupt, verging on sleazy, 1930s socialite to the violent and frankly terrifying man we see in the final scenes was a feat many actors would have found unattainable. It is highly unfortunate that the intended sexual tension between the characters of Valmont and Merteuil only amounted to heavy petting between the actors as opposed to a more meaningful connection. However this was more than rectified by the deliciously heart-breaking scenes Samaha shared with Ella Waldman.

Within the play, Waldman portrays the virtuous Madame de Tourvel who is destined to be corrupted through Valmont and Merteuil’s scheming. Waldman is both earnest and believable in the role, and although her character is rather restrained within the first act, she triumphantly rises to the high dramatic standards set by Samaha and Porter in the second half.

A wonderful cast supports these three actors. Daniel Draper’s portrayal of the boyishly naïve Danceny is highly convincing, meanwhile I personally found Olivia Barber’s absolute embodiment of Madame de Rosmonde some of the best acting within the entire performance.

Overall, despite the grounding distraction of the pianist at the back of the stage shuffling his music (you especially had to question his presence in the bedroom scenes!) and the constant amusement of waiting for Porter to topple from her heels, Dangerous Liaisons offered the opportunity to immerse yourself for three hours into the dark and intoxicating world of 1930s Paris.

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Lucy Wood

at 07:37 on 3rd May 2012

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Any production, student or otherwise, which seeks to take on a piece of work as seminal and as prominent in the public imagination as 'Dangerous Liaisons' could never be accused of a lack of mettle. This show seems largely to live up to this idea: despite the period clothing, the carefully stage-managed and crafted look, and the stylised nature of the performances, the cast and crew were able to create in this old favourite a production worthy of its times, recapturing the old feelings of shock by pushing once more at our, the audience’s, expectations and reactions.

Christina Drollas’ (Director and Adaptor) new script captured all the wit and charm of the original novel; carried off, it has to be said, with considerable flair by the cast, with the Vicomte de Valmont (Ziad Samaha) calling for particular note (Indeed, it was difficult to decide whether Samaha’s performance carried the show, or was simply a bar which the rest of the cast much reach, in order not to pale by comparison). Moreover, they were able to take what might, in other hands, have simply become a collection of tired-out clichés and, even within the beautiful set and period setting, to create something exciting. The suggestion of a rape in the confrontation between the Vicomte de Valmont and Cecile (Claudia King), and the Marquise de Merteuil’s (Alice Porter) cold acceptance of her own misery and brutal willingness to and delight in pushing others over the edge, are all used to keep the audience on the brink, even in a plot so well and so widely known. As might be expected from Dangerous Liaisons, the production never shied away from the sexual aspects of the work, but nor did it forget the capacity for humour, particularly in the darker or more ironic moments. The Marquise de Merteuil line: “love is something you use, not something you fall into”, seems perfectly to demonstrate the conflicts and concerns of the piece.

The production’s emphasis upon details – in its set, in its structure and in its acting – is certainly something to be commended, even if sometimes does get somewhat lost in transmission. Whilst the impact of having people on stage before the action had begun was largely lost in the noise of people finding their seats, nevertheless the pianist performing between scenes and during set changes, and in getting the stage hands to dress according to the theme and period of the piece all suggest the great care with which the whole play was produced. However, perhaps more of the relationship as well of the seduction of Madame de Tourvel (Ella Waldman) could have been made, whilst the inclusion of the scene between the Vicomte and Emilie (Amelia Wilson), although entertaining, did not necessarily add to the production as a whole.

Overall, the play was witty and sassy and certainly not one to be passed up. Unless your mother is visiting (a mistake made by a particularly uncomfortable pair in the row behind).

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