Cambridge's leading amateur theatre production company

Established 1981

Les Liaisons Dangereuses
by Christopher Hampton   directed by Colin Lawrence

The Drama Centre, Cambridge, February 1999

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Two reviews of Les Liaisons Dangereuses
by Nick Warburton and Francesca Whiting of Cambridge Evening News

We were only a little way into this play before we were able to conclude that the French aristocracy of the late Eighteenth Century was in a state of considerable decline.  They were complacent, effete and on the way to destruction. It took us no longer to realise that, as far as Bawds is concerned, the very opposite is the case.  We could feel confident that we were in the hands of a group who could tackle a bib, difficult piece of drama and come out on top.

Choderlos de Laclos’ novel on which Christopher Hampton based his script, charts the intrigues of La Marquise de Merteuil and Le Vicomte de Valmont as they devote their empty and idle lives to the destruction of those around them.  They do this through sexual conquest and jealousy.   Not only does the piece demand a precise and mannered style of playing, unfamiliar to modern audiences, but it also locates its most dramatic moments in sometimes wordy exchanges rather than in action.  The problem this creates for any group attempting to make the most of these subtleties without overpointing on the one hand, or flatness on the other.  Bawds pitched neatly between the two.

Much depends on the playing of Merteuil and Valmont, and Colin Lawrence’s meticulous production was well served in this by Sally Marsh and James Dowson.  Sally Marsh was confident enough to convey Merteuil’s icy ruthlessness through stillness and she remained in complete control throughout.  As Valmont, James Dowson was faced with a most difficult role and he played it with a mastery which increased during the evening.  His best moments, I thought, were in those lighter, defter scenes where we saw him toying with his conquests.  Perhaps there would have been more of a charge between the two, and a greater sense of Valmont’s sickness as, towards the end, he yields to the pain of finding that he has a heart.  These two skilful actors had excellent support from an experienced cast, each of whom seemed to have understood the essence of the characters they were playing.  Suzanne Jones succeeded in making the purity of de Tourvel interesting – no easy task – and Derek Matravers, as Danceny, stepped innocently into the traps laid for him with enthusiasm and boyish charm.  But the whole team was good and made significant contributions to a gripping evening.

Peter Norwood gave us a set which was just right – both elegant and simple.  Lighting on its white flowers was used to denote a change of location, though I only noticed this when it was pointed out to me afterwards (my fault, not the production’s).  There was a splendid and convincing duel and some spectacular costumes.
This was a challenging choice of play and it much to Bawds’ credit that they overcame the challenge to create for us an evening of fine, tense, drama.

* * * *

Win or die are the choice on offer in this delicious adaptation of the Laclos classic.

Set in the 1780s in and around Paris, La Marquise de Merteuil (Sally Marsh) and her former lover Le Vicomte de Valmont (James Dowson) partake in and intriguing game of cat and mouse. Both show a distinct lack of morality as they thrive on frighteningly unpredictable challenges which take the form of sexual and emotional conquest.

Revenge spurs La Marquise to appeal to Valmont's strong male pride and provoke him into seducing a naive young girl, Cecile de Volanges (Liz Wareham). The rules of the game are clear. Only flirt with those who intend to refuse, and always be aware that vanity and happiness are incompatible.  Unfortunately for the incorrigible rogue, Valmont makes the fatal mistake of combining the two. As La Marquise points out, 'the best swimmers often drown'.

As an ageing, wealthy woman living in this era, you can hardly blame her for making the best of her sex, in what otherwise would be a dull existence of social civility.  But it is the relentless lengths she goes to in such a calculating manner that makes her actions so frightening and callous.

La Presidente de Tourval (Suzanne Jones) plays a virtuous girl, made love-sick by the dishourable advances of Le Vicomte.  Snivelling a great deal in her wretchednessd, she makes a great contrast to the dominant Marquise, who is always able to stay in control of her emotions, to the point where you do question her capacity for any form of humanity.

In the midst of such social intrigue can true love possibly flourish?  Very raunchy, with a wealth of hilarious sexual innuendos, this play's compelling and energetic pace gives a surprisingly contemporary feel to period drama.