Fancy a dangerous liaison…?

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I totally fell in love with Les Liaisons Dangereuses when I saw the late-80s film version – with the deliciously cruel John Malkovich having his wicked way with oh-so-sweet Michelle Pfeiffer at the urging of the scheming Glenn Close.  His restrained muttering of ‘it’s beyond my control’ set my teenage heart a-flutter and ruined nice boys for me forever (until I met Mr C, of course).

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The latest theatrical production of Christopher Hampton’s adaption of the 1782 novel – the only one Pierre Choderlos de Laclos ever wrote – has been staged at the Donmar Warehouse, a tiny theatre with a massive reputation.  There are no tickets left at all now (more’s the pity) so I took Mr C to see the NTLive screening this week.

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I’ll admit to having been a bit sniffy about live screenings in the past.  Especially in theatres where the audience is closer to the action than they would be in a regular theatre.  But now I’ve got over the occasional glimpse of people who actually managed to get tickets (I’m a jealous girl), I’m all for them.  You get such an up-close look at the actors, and a sense of being drawn right into the action – and that was particularly true with Les Liaisons.

The set is tiny – because the theatre is – which fits the action perfectly.  The claustrophobic feel of the play is brilliantly evoked, with the candlelight making it all the more mysterious and sinister.  And the set design gets progressively pared back as play goes on, focusing you in more and more on the churning emotions and relationships you’re watching disintegrate.  The costumes, too, are gorgeous – firmly period, subtly coloured, and those corsets do a great job of reminding you how constrained women were at the time.

Great cast, too.  Janet McTeer is stunning.  Properly stunning.  It’s one of those performances where she can say loads with just the raise of an eyebrow or the heave of a corset-squashed cleavage.  As the Marquise de Mertuil, she’s at the dead centre of the play – a powerful woman, reeking her revenge on the men who have wronged her as well as a society whose double standards make women’s lives and reputations so precarious.

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A huge surprise, too, was Una Stubbs.  Having grown up with Wurzel Gummidge on the telly, I’ve only just about got over her being in Sherlock.  But in this, as Madame de Rosemonde, the Vicomte de Valmont’s elderly aunt, she is brilliant.  A deliciously sweet little old lady, but hard as nails when the you-know-what is hitting the fan.

I’d definitely recommend trying to catch one of the live screenings that are on around the area.  It’s passionate and dark.  It’s wittier than I remember.  And it’s beautiful to watch.

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The Urban Guide to the Countryside - Hertfordshire