Les Liaisons Dangereuses

Lynne Lancaster

STC: With his fabulous cast and excellent creative team, director Sam Strong brings us a magnificent production that enthralls, horrifies and has you on the edge of your seat.
Les Liaisons Dangereuses
Christopher Hampton’s Les Liasons Dangereuses is about morals, ethics, control, sexual politics, cynical manipulation and the shattering of innocence, in a world where everything is hidden behind a facade and no-one is what they seem. Le Vicomte de Valmont (Hugo Weaving) and the Marquise de Merteuil (Pamela Rabe) try to amuse themselves, warding off ennui by gambling extremely high stakes in a battle neither of them can afford to lose. Both appear to be juggling things successfully, but we soon learn that toying with people’s emotions can lead to disaster.

With his fabulous cast and excellent creative team, director Sam Strong brings us a magnificent production - fluid, almost conematic - that enthralls, horrifies and has you on the edge of your seat. De Laclos’ book, upon which Hampton’s play is based, was first published in 1782. The play, full of ironic, almost Wildean wit, was written in 1985.

The rather complicated plot unravels like this: the Marquise and Vicomte have a history, now hidden by the vengeful plans with which they tease and delight each other. The Vicomte’s first target is Mme De Tourvel (Justine Clark) who is temporarily living with his aunt, Mme de Rosemonde (Jane Harders) while her husband is away. The Vicomte views this as a challenge to his prowess: making a virtuous married woman succumb to him and abandon all her strictly held morals and beliefs.

Simultaneously the Marquise urges the Vicomte to seduce and corrupt the virginal, innocent Cecile de Volanges (Geraldine Hakewill) the daughter of her ‘friend’ Mme De Volanges (Heather Mitchell). This would be a sweet revenge as the man Cecile is meant to to marry has recently dropped the Marquise as a lover. However, Cecile is in love with her music tutor, the Chevalier Danceny (dreamily handsome James Mackay) and the Vicomte and the Marquise cunningly pretend to offer their services to ‘further’ the romance between Cecile and the Chevalier while actually using and sleeping with them as part of their own perverse plans. With the enforced breakdown and betrayal of the relationship between Mme de Tourvel and the Vicomte (it is ‘beyond his control’) , war is declared between the Marquise and the Vicomte with eventually tragic, fatal results.

Pamela Rabe as the ruthless Marquise is magnificent, thrillingly cruel and powerful, elegant and poised in her silver bobbed hair. As the satyr-like and charming but aging rake, the Vicomte, Hugo Weaving is superb: hypnotic and devilishly desirable, an aristocratic Don Juan.

Justine Clark as the betrayed, exquisitely Grace Kelly-like Mme De Tourvel is fabulous; her despairing throwing over all her moral scruples and ‘ruining’ herself for love is magnificently portrayed.

As the young, innocent, eventually corrupted Cecile, Geraldine Hakewill is tremendous. Heather Mitchell as her elegant mother Mme De Volanges is equally brilliant.

Tall, leggy Ashley Ricardo sizzles in the minor role of Emilie, and Jane Harders as old world weary Mme De Rosemonde is terrific.

Only rarely are you able to see such an intricate, multi-layered production featuring such fine acting from the entire ensemble.

Strong’s production updates the story to contemporary times, typified by Mel Page’s stunning, elegant outfits, though Dale Ferguson’s marvellous white, light and airy Rococo-like set designs hint at the play’s original setting of pre-Revolutionary France. Alan John’s score blends delicate, limpid Baroque piano with eerie, relentless metronomic contemporary beats, culminating in a gripping climactic scene of Russian Roulette in Act 2.

If you haven’t already, quick, book now for this gripping, chilling production.

Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Les Liasons Dangereuses
By Christopher Hampton
From the novel by Choderlos de Laclos
Director: Sam Strong
Set Design: Dale Ferguson
Costume Design: Mel Page
Lighting: Hartley T A Kemp
Composer: Alan John
Sound Design: Steve Francis
Assistant Director: James Dalton

Cast: Justine Clark, Geraldine Hakewill, Jane Harders, James Mackay, Heather Mitchell, TJ Power, Pamela Rabe, Ashley Ricardo and Hugo Weaving

Running Time: 2 hours 45 mins (approx) including interval

Sydney Theatre Company, Wharf 1
April 5 – June 19

About the author

Lynne Lancaster is a Sydney based arts writer who has previously worked for Ticketek, Tickemaster and the Sydney Theatre Company. She has an MA in Theatre from UNSW, and when living in the UK completed the dance criticism course at Sadlers Wells, linked in with Chichester University.