Les Liaisons Dangereuses Review

March 7, 2010

Production trumps performance yet again at the Gate Theatre in Michael Barker Cavens desperately disappointing production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses, which runs until April 24th. Sliding French windows, pretty period furniture and lush, breast-enhancing costumes are met by flaccid, farcical performances that go through the motions but never the emotions. They’re all talk, no thought. The script is laced with humor but here it kills, stone dead, any of the raw human emotions that makes this play so special. The passion, the jealousy, the burning envy. It’s all cast aside in a pantoesque display, which does a grave injustice to Christopher Hampton’s wonderful words.

Nick Dunning is a particularly woeful Vicomte de Valmont, never once changing tone. Whether riding his conquests, deriding his enemies or wooing Tourvel he maintains a painful air of detachment. An interesting, if poorly realised, character choice, which he clings to so rigidly he strangles Valmont’s crucial personality shift at the plays end. The legendary Lothario is reduced to a disinterested letch, which never convinces us of his lies, of his offence or his genuine affections.

His scenes with Mertuille (Fiona Bell) are far to self-aware, vapid, vacant and facetious. Their deadly game of cat and mouse is reduced to a series of trivial pursuits, with no passion, no feeling and absolutely no danger. Never for a single second, do you believe that these two were once, and in someway still are, in love.

Catherine Walker, as Trouvel, is a nervous ball of energy that is given little to work with and does even less. A supposed hard nut to crack she invests her character with nothing but taughts of Valmont and her fidgety, aimless performance leaves us in no doubt about the forgone conclusion. His eventual dismissal of her, defying his natural instincts out of pride, is the start of Valmont’s self destruction but his speedy, sullen delivery makes me wonder just what was so important in Nick Dunning’s  life he couldn’t get his thoughts off of it and onto the stage where it belonged.

Tellingly the shows final scene, a three hander between Deirdre Donnelly’s Madame De Roseamonde, Bell’s Mertiuille and Susan Fitzgerald’s Mdme de Volanges is it’s best, a tense, understated dance between what’s being said and what is not. Having spent the past hour praying for the show to end, I was finally engaged. Mainly because Dunning wasn’t there, repelling interaction.

Having waited 15 years to see this play onstage I rather wish I hadn’t. At one point Mertuille says of Valmont  “Such a man may risk loosing his ability to charm, without necessarily enhancing his power to persuade.” A perfect summation of this smug, smirking production.


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