Pierre Ambroise Francois Choderlos de Laclos’ novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses has been reincarnated many times. Whether on film or on stage, its story is one that resonates with every generation.
Famously filmed in 1988 with John Malkovich and Glenn Close, the story has come to be a familiar one. Ex-lovers, the Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont, play games of sex and power with one another; Merteuil promises sexual gratification if Valmont succeeds in disgracing her rival Cecile and converting the chaste and honourable Madame de Tourvel (adeptly performed by Adam Cooper’s wife Sarah Wildor).
The tale is one of emotional and moral complexities, and Adam Cooper’s new adaptation manages to honour this in a stunningly eclectic production that mixes classical ballet with contemporary dance.
Lez Brotherston’s set has a simplicity reminiscent of the celebrated Alan Rickman and Lindsay Duncan production of the 90s but, instead of drapes and tapestries, a mirrored room adorns the stage. It both alludes to the decadence of 18th Century France, with its echoes of the hall of mirrors in Versailles, and compliments the claustrophobia of the onstage relationships as curtains billow and screens move across the empty space.
This claustrophobic atmosphere works best during the uncomfortable scene of the rape of Cecile in her own bedroom. Adam Cooper fully conveys the sexual rage and menace within Valmont through his physicality in this scene. As Cecile, Helen Dixon furthers this feeling as she allows her body to be used and manipulated by Cooper.
In the early scenes Dixon superbly captures the innocent essence of Cecile and her performance subtly develops as the plot progresses. Adam Cooper, as expected, dominates the stage throughout. Capable of both grace and aggression; he at times appears too full of malice, his anger overshadowing the emotional complexity of Valmont’s character. As a dancer, he is amazing but in his hands Valmont does not evolve very far beyond the misogynistic villain he appears in the opening scenes.
As Merteuil, Sarah Barron is also incredible. As strong a presence on stage as Cooper, hers is a mesmerising performance, adept at conveying the jealousy and passion that ultimately lead to her character’s undoing. As the stage becomes a sea of broken glass and blinding light, Barron loses none of her power.
The core of the story is established in the atmospheric opening scenes when the characters reveal themselves and their intentions to the audience. It is beautifully done and sets the tone for the intense and evocative production to come. Barron again shines as the story develops, sexually manipulating the two men and emotionally deceiving Cecile and her mother. Hers is the performance that lingers in the memory, highly erotic and frighteningly seductive.
Philip Feeny’s score is particularly interesting; there’s an initial superficiality to the music but it always feels intended. The score acts as an insightful reflection of the monotony and vanity of Merteuil and Valmont’s lives. In the second act, however, the music develops dramatically – the operatics of Marilyn Cutts providing an interesting addition to the overall sound.
Adam Cooper and Lez Brotherston have surpassed all expectations with their new production. The cast is remarkable, the music challenging and the overall production an insightful, provocative and exhilarating adaptation of a much loved and still very relevant novel.