Breasts heave, voices are raspy with sexual tension, and Dominic West’s predatory Valmont is demonstrating why he is France’s top swordsman (and not with his epee). What’s not to like with Josie Rourke’s blistering production of Les Liaisons Dangeruses?
It has been 30 years since the original stage play and the Donmar’s scintillating revival is a sexy affair from start to finish.
The national theatre critics went in on Thursday night and were unanimous in their praise. A night later, when I saw it, perhaps the cast were post-euphoric from reading their five-star notices, but there were struggles to remember lines.
Some lines were repeated, there were unusually long pauses and some actors interrupted others in the rush to get out their dialogue. It wasn’t disastrous but the performance did need a bit of a polish.
The hesitancy didn’t mar my enjoyment of Christopher Hampton’s sumptuous, award-winning adaptation of Choderlos De Laclos only novel which turned out to be a masterpiece despite shocking 18th century society with its tale of sexual intrigue.
Was it representative of the louche behaviour indulged by the upper classes? Who can say? But this is a tale of sex and debauchery that will have you enthralled by its audacity.
Janet McTeer gives a riveting performance as the manipulative, controlling and amoral La Marquise de Merteuil who uses sex as a weapon to revenge sleights, settle scores and gain the upper-hand in the sexual games played by the privileged.
The marquise tries to persuade the libidinous and voracious Le Vicomte de Valmont, to take the virginity of the naïve young fiancé of another of her lovers who had recently dropped her.
But he’s reluctant to take up the challenge because he has his sights set on a bigger prize, Madame de Tourvel, the deeply chaste and religious wife of a politician who is staying with his aunt.
Dominic West makes an engaging and determined rake (he’s had enough practice as a bounder as he is currently wowing TV audiences in The Affair) and we see Valmont playing the field, above and below stairs.
He cheekily pens a love letter on the bare bottom of a prostitute, using her raised instep to balance the inkwell and the audience sits agog as we listen to his quite brilliant gameplan to land the impossible prize.
Hampton’s dialogue is witty, racy and flirtatious, every sentence dripping with sexual innuendo and delivered with breathless expectancy.
The lovely Una Stubbs has a cameo as Valmont’s aunt but all eyes are on the bawdy gamesmanship of de Merteuil, Valmont, Elaine Cassidy’s fiery de Tourvel and Morfydd Clark’s innocent, though enthusiastic, Cécile.
The costumes are to die for (the women’s corsets valiantly working overtime to contain their heaving breasts) though it is noticeable that clothes of the celebrated peacock, Valmont, far outshine the splendour of the women’s gowns.
Tom Scutt’s design for the set can best be described as shabby chic chateau with faded walls, a selection of paintings propped against them and candlelit chandeliers, providing a tired grandeur to the Donmar Warehouse’s intimate stage.
An intoxicating and profoundly sexy production. Les Liaisons Dangereuses runs until February 13.
Les Liaisons Dangereuses
Intoxicating and dripping in sexual tension, Janet McTeer and Dominic West make debauchery fashionable in a revival of Christopher Hampton’s sumptuous Les Liaisons Dangereuses.