Les Liaisons Dangereuses
Loft Theatre, Leamington, until February 1
Reviewer: Peter McGarry
SEX and seduction are in full swing at the Loft as it launches its new year. Theatrically speaking, of course.
Christopher Hampton’s adaptation from a steamy French novel spares no blushes in its cold-blooded expose of late-18th century lust and immorality. It’s a lengthy, articulate look into the murky minds of upper classes who indulge in sexual cruelty and manipulation as their own form of idle sport.
For all its skilful, probing dialogue, to say nothing of a healthy batch of theatre awards, the play is too long. And the Loft unfortunately adds to the problem by a never-ending sequence of scene changes which, while executed with military precision, serve to dilute the impact and add many further unwelcome minutes to the running time. These could surely be curtailed with more use made of the wide stage area, thus dispelling the kind of feeling you get from television commercials popping up every few minutes.
Sue Moore’s production would then benefit more from its ready range of assets, notably terrific costumes and performances hitting a high level of dramatic intensity. Of these, none is more riveting than Madame de Tourvel’s gradual descent from cold propriety to avid sexual desire. Elizabeth Morris delivers this scene with power and agonising sensitivity.
The play’s other victim is 15-year-old convent girl Cecile whose somewhat dizzy and more joyous fall into corruption is handled with considerable style by Laura Hayward.
In terms of overall plot, the theme is developed through the aristocratic lovers, the Marquise and the Vicomte, and their ugly attempts to manipulate and destroy virtue in others. Julie Godfrey and Mark Crossley strike sparks off each other with massive slabs of dialogue. At times she could be more fearsomely icy, his serial womaniser could be more compellingly suave, but the characters are firmly established. And gradually, the hint that real love can lie somewhere beneath all the degradation is allowed to emerge.
By any standards, this play is a bold challenge and a demanding enterprise.