Les Liaisons Dangereuses
Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, adapted by Christopher Hampton
Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Pierre Choderlos de Laclos' book about deceit and betrayal was a masterpiece of epistolarian writing when it was published in 1782. As a story about sexual intrigue and the complexities of interpersonal relationships, it has been a widely plundered source material for adaptation both to the stage and screen. The latest production of Christopher Hampton's celebrated stage adaptation has taken a slightly more unusual slant of the material, being somewhat simplified.
The story concerns a wager set between La Vicomte de Valmont and La Marquise de Merteuil, a pair of bored aristocratic ex-lovers who fill their vacuous lives with the pursuit of new lovers and the destruction of their enemies. The wager, to seduce the adolescent daughter of Merteuil's latest nemesis, Madame de Volanges, is accepted by Valmont after discovering it will aid his own ruthless designs on La Presidente de Tourvel. What follows is a veritable swamp of deceit, heartless seduction and usury of hapless innocents, all at the whim of the two master-manipulators. It is only when Valmont finds himself falling in love with Tourvel, that matters become complicated for himself and his vicious partner in hate.
Dugald Bruce-Lockhart exudes charm in the role of Valmont, as he effortlessly twists the women of the play around his finger without ever stepping far enough over the edge to make the audience dislike him. However there is altogether too much joie de vivre about his Valmont. He never seems to be world weary enough, nor does he ever show the great desires he is alleged to feel for Tilly Blackwood's Merteuil, nor the long-term love he professes for her. There was instead a general lack of passion and chemistry between Valmont and Merteuil. It is only towards the very end of the play that we see a glimmer of the feelings the characters are supposed to feel for one-another.
Blackwood's Merteuil is a different creature entirely, reserved and nihilistic, she is entirely too believable, which only serves to emphasise the lack of spark between the villainous duo. However the cast of the play is mainly female and because of this we are left in an unfortunate situation where there are almost too many similar characters. Blackwood isn't manifestly contemptible enough to lift her above the other similar styled characters, with only Candida Benson's Tourvel being sufficiently tortured and prim to stand out amongst them, we are left with a cast that to many intents and purposes seem unnecessary.
Another problem with this production is that in never feels like it is being played in the correct tone. The play is full of double entendres and throwaway lines, which leave it sitting more tongue in cheek than as a serious drama. This greater focus on the humour detracts from the real issues, and renders scenes of emotional turmoil insipid and feeling almost out of place. What is more lacking in fact is the quintessential "Frenchness" which should be inherent to the period and the events, instead there is a very English feel to the production more akin to Dickens than to pre-Revolutionary France. Which sadly leaves Les Liaisons Dangereuses a pretty but ultimately unfulfilling affair.
Runs till May 20th.
Reviewer: Graeme Strachan