When Les Liaisons Dangereuses first opened in the West End many, many years ago, I smashed my piggy bank to go and was stunned by Christopher Hampton’s sparkling interpretation of Laclose’s original novel. Ever since, whenever it’s revived (it was later filmed as Dangerous Liaisons with John Malkovitch and Glenn Close) I am staggered by how the play still stands strong. The latest version, at the venerable Donmar Theater in Covent Garden, is joining the stellar club in true blousy, overblown style. Starring Dominic West (from The Wire) the play is as sexy, amoral – and sumptuous – as ever.
West’s predatory Valmont is at once creepy and covetable, his lustful eye and wandering hands made all the less comfortable by the close proximity of the audience. As the Marquise de Merteuil, Janet McTeer creates an icy carapace that chills any room she enters, the mask rarely slipping to reveal any kind of vulnerability under the malice.
Design owes a debt to the new Sam Wanamaker Theater across town; five gigantic chandeliers and several massive candelabras, dripping with crystals, sparkle with naked candle flame, glowing amber and rising high and low as the scenes move from intimate to even more intimate. The Ancien Régim elegance has a distinctly past-its-sell-by-date feel, with chaise-longues, walls and even a harpsichord doing service as makeshift beds. The chilling (if a little melodramatic) shadow of a guillotine at the end of the original has been omitted this time, though without anything to replace it, the production ends on a somewhat pedestrian note. This, however, is splitting hairs. It’s an extraordinary performance that lingers long in the mind.
It’s marvelous if you can make it to the theatre in person, but, following in the current fashion of relaying live performances of great theater to cinemas, the performance will be relayed to picture houses across Britain and worldwide. There are several live screenings across the States.
Les Liaisons Dangereuses plays at the Donmar Warehouse until 13 February 2016.