The revival of Christopher Hampton’s powerful play of revenge, amorality, sexuality and deception, Les Liaisons Dangereuses at the Gate Theatre is a sumptuous production with lots of posh frocks, wonderful acting, some nudity, some explicit carnality, lots of passion and throbbing bodice ripping passion at that.
The setting of sliding panels and drapes, silent servants, to the manor born and quality furniture created that eighteenth century sexual boredom where people play games of all sorts and do not or cannot care for consequences.
Cruelty is never far away, in a strict public code of morality where human weaknesses are exploited and innocents, ravaged crudely but with such good manners. Seduction is a social game but Hampton in the end stuck to the book and morality won out in a surprising end, which seemed to suggest that depravity will destroy victor and victim.
I’m not sure whether the play is meant to shock or evoke sympathy but Michael Barker-Caven had the slow measure of the period and the nudity was more overt, and the ravishing of the innocent, more visual. I loved the cruelty of it all; the careless dalliance of jaded people and the acting was superb.
Nick Dunning was splendid as the seducer and Fiona Bell was chilling as the scheming Marquise de Merteuil. Jane McGrath was wonderful as the innocent but eager Cecile and Deirdre Donnelly was excellent as the pragmatic Madam de Rosemonde. Maria Teece as the cynical courtesan Emilie added much to the casual cruelty of the work.