Les Liaisons Dangerous interview

March 2, 2010

Les Liaisons Dangerous is a delicious bit of theatre, wickedly compiled by Christopher Hampton from the 1782 novel by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos. Himself a military strategist it looks at the ruthless efforts of the Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont as they use there mutual wiles to seduce their prey, reduce their enemies and wreak comical havoc on the upstanding society they belong too. It runs at the Gate until April 24th with a cast that includes Nick Dunning, Catherine Walker and the magnificent Susan Fitzgerald. Here Fiona Bell talks to Caomhan Keane about stepping into the shoes so well worn by Glen Close, Annette Benning and err…Sarah Michelle Gellar.

You play Marquise de Merteuil, a role that most actresses dream of sinking their teeth into (and a fair few actors as well). Was this the case with you?

No. I tend not to think about roles, as I’m a bit more of a jobbing actor. I was delighted when this came along and I put myself forward for the role so I responded to it but I only knew it through the film.

It’s just one of those parts that has everything. She’s seen as the villain but she is an understandable villain. She’s a three dimensional person and she’s a woman of her times who is trying to survive. She’s looking for freedom and control of her life. She’s clever, she has whatever man she wants and she’s just a well-rounded character.

Do you consider her to be a feminist icon?

I’d be loathe to say she’s a feminist icon because ultimately she uses her power to such ridiculous ends but you could argue that she has her glass ceiling and she is very confined in her world and she manipulates and try’s to have power within the very narrow confines of that world. She wasn’t able to be in another walk of life where she could use her many skills for good.

How do you keep her from becoming a pantomime villain?

You’re not playing against the lines, there so beautifully constructed but your constantly trying to find the normality in them. The moment you go into archness your lost because she is arch at times and she is sarcastic at times but you always have to find the humanity. And there is a huge humanity to the part. The play is a love story and it’s as much a love story between her and Valmont as it is a love story between Valmont and Tourvel. Because it’s about the destruction of their relationship. They love each other, as much as they know what love is. Their type of love. He then goes on to find a different type of love. But she is in love with him and she ultimately destroys what she loves. He becomes poisonous to her and she can’t have him in the world. She wouldn’t be able to exist.

Do you put a lot of yourself into the part?

I don’t know how you can act and not put yourself into it. The only thing you have is yourself. Your brain, your experience your emotions your conscience and your take in the world. Obviously you have to take a huge shift to understand somebody else’s world or point of view.

I find the decisions Merteuil makes hard to feel sometimes because she is so cut and dry, so about her own survival. But by the same token, it’s me playing her

How much does costume and production design play in a show like this?

It’s a really difficult show, costume and set wise, because the main character is in every single scene. It’s very hard to stage it completely naturalistically. If he isn’t changing clothes, why is everybody else changing clothes? And if they did change clothes it could end up being a fancy dress party. So were keeping it pretty minimal in this production.

How hands on is Michael Caven as a director?

Oh he’s very hands on. Out of the corner of your eye you can see him acting along with you. He’s on the floor continually. I’d hate if he wasn’t hands on. I like to feel supported and have someone who is on the level with me and especially in figuring out what’s going on at every moment in the script.

Is there a difference in approach from you when you’re playing a classic character like Merteuil or creating a character like you did in Abi Spillane’s Strandline?

No, I don’t think so. You have to approach them the same way. You say I created the role of Eileen. But I was really only the first person to play it. There was a script there. I helped workshop it but so had other actresses. Ultimately you just give yourself over to the role and see what happens.

Les Liaisons Dangerous runs from the 2nd of March until  Saturday 24th April. Monday – Saturday at 7.30pm with Saturday matinees at 2.30pm on selected dates. Previews €20, Matinees/Mondays €25, Tuesday -Thursday €32, Friday -Saturday €35, Students: Mon – Thurs €15 (subject to availibilty).


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