Monday, 7 May 2012
REVIEW: 'Love should be used, not fallen into!' - Dangerous Liasons, The Oxford Playhouse, Oxford, 04/05/2012
Set in the 18th century, shortly before the French Revolution, Dangerous Liaisons is based on the epistolary novel of the same name by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos. The book one of the most controversial novels in European literature, on a par with Lady Chatterley's Lover and Lolita, and was in fact banned for quite some time. The story is one of manipulation, seduction and revenge, using the ideas of love and sex as weapons, which ultimately ends in demise and tragedy. The Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont, two rivals and ex-lovers, use sex as a weapon to humiliate and degrade others, as a part of their cruel and dangerous games. The Vicomte wishes to seduce the Marquise, who as a result manipulates him into seducing innocent women as sport. The Vicomte gets a young girl named Cécile pregnant, and comes to the realisation that he has fallen in love with his other conquest, Madame de Tourvel, and yet under the jealous instruction of the Marquise, he rejects her, leaving them both heartbroken. The Marquise reveals to Danceny, a young boy in love with Cécile that is was the Vicomte who got her pregnant, resulting in a dramatic duel to the death.
As a supporter of amateur productions, I was quite intrigued as to how well the student production would run. Whilst there were patches of weakness overall I was quite pleased with the show. As the audience entered we were greeted on stage by an elegant and typical French salon, however it was not in the model of 18th century France, but 1938 pre-war France. Chairs and tables at either corner of the stage suggested we would be watching a split stage, and I wasn't wrong. The staging aptly reflected the luxuriousness and privilege of French wealthy classes, and I didn't mind how it sometimes felt a little claustrophobic, as it tied in well with the manipulation and traps in the plot. I was however, relieved when the set was opened out during the duel scene. Not only shifting from and inside setting to an outside setting, I truly felt as if the secrets, the manipulation and the deceit of the plot was being let out with it, allowing for the dramatic and enthralling climax.
Interestingly, the Musical Director Nicholas Howley was on stage from start to finish, sat at a grand piano, but unfortunately whilst Howley is undoubtedly a talented musician, the atmospheric music being played before the play started was washed away somewhat by the anticipation and buzz of the audience. What's more, in between almost every scene, a small piece of incidental music would be played on the piano, greeted all too often by a black out or a semi-blackout, which I admit grew a bit irksome and tedious by the end of the show. I found myself crying out for a different device to be used during the transitions of scenes as the pacing seemed to be thrown down a couple of pegs each time.
I want to briefly mention that this particular production is a completely new adaptation, written and realised by Director Christina Drollas. Credit where credit is due I think she did a very good job at bringing together a script that was both humorous, ambitious, engaging and at times cheeky. Her jump to 1938 France didn't detract from the overall plot, in fact, it reflected how such activity and immorality can be seen in any societies or class in all eras.
I have to say I was very impressed by the sheer wealth and quality of talent that was on display in this production, although I also feel that the male performances slightly overshadowed those of the females. The highlight of the production was without a doubt Ziad Samaha, whose portrayal of the Vicomte de Valmont was at times so natural, he had my two friends admitting to falling and I quote, "hopelessly" in love with him themselves. Charming, provocative, persuasive and extremely watchable, his natural manner and comfort on stage was evident for all to see, and I would go so far as to say that he wouldn't look out of place treading the boards in a professional production one day. Iago immediately springs to mind! The other actors did a pretty good job too. Daniel Draper as the noble, valiant and altogether rather endearing Danceny was another strong performance. As was Jordan Waller, who managed to tackle the sickly sweet and over-attentive Belleroche with good humour and charm.
There were some good performances by the actresses as well.Whilst Alice Porter did well as the Marquise de Merteuil, at times she seemed a little forced and overwhelmed in her scenes with Samaha. The Marquise is a character who should be deliciously seductive, manipulative and evil. I picked up on the manipulation well, but for me the character just wasn't played with enough bite or allure. For once I felt it needed to be sexed up a little bit, but she did well in her scenes with Cécile, playing the doting friend yet secretly plotting her ruin. I was particularly impressed with Claudia King's Cécile de Volanges. She captured her naivety, innocence and girlish beliefs in love well, and dealt well being on stage with the show-stealing-Samaha. In fact, most of the performers did well not to be too outshone. Ella Waldham as Madame de Tourvel was able to embody her character's turmoil and resistance before bravely shifting to dependence and heartbreak, an ability that I wasn't expecting and was pleasantly surprised by.
All in all, the production was very well done and definitely deserves three stars. The cast dealt well with the explosive themes in the play, and were able to capture the audience and lead them down the path of manipulation until the play's climax. It was done so well, in fact, that I found myself almost disappointed when the Vicomte met his untimely if somewhat deserved comeuppance, as he was the character I found to be most engaging and entertaining. The production provided humour, and was genuinely fun to watch. While I do feel there were elements that could be improved, for an original student adaptation, it felt quite professional and polished, and I was very impressed.
Posted by Abigail Briggs