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Les Liaisons Dangereuses
by Christopher Hampton

Martin Williams as Le Vicomte de Valmont.  Photo by Joe Brown

Production No. 355

More images from Les Liaisons Dangereuses

 

PREVIEW
Tamsyn Payne, director


I was working in Edinburgh this month at the Fringe Festival. During one of many slightly drunken nights with theatrical types I mentioned I was directing my first play. ‘Sell it to me then,’ says my pushy drinking companion – ‘why should I come and see this play?’ And so I did.

If you don’t fall in love with Hampton’s nigh on perfect script, which is as deliciously witty and cutting as it is brutal and emotional, then how can you say no to a play which is all about sex and control (everyone’s favourites!) and all in lavish 18th Century costume?

Hampton’s two central characters – La Marquise de Merteuil (beautiful aristocratic widow with disdain for societal norms and megalomaniacal tendencies) and Le Vicomte de Valmont (sex-obsessed, cruel, charming and always perfectly turned out ‘no-one has the slightest respect for him; but everyone is very nice to him’) - are, I feel, perfectly cast in Patricia Coleman and Martin Williams.

In addition there is a supportive and talented cast and production team who are too numerous to list but are all being wonderful as I bumble into my inaugural production.

As always, the forgotten heroes of am-dram, the costume-making wonders Alison, Pam, Dorothy and co are already hard at work in their cupboard under the stairs. This should be quite a visual treat if all goes according to plan.

So now back in town and two rehearsals down do we still love it? In a slightly less idealistic and rose-tinted way – yes of course! Come and see us for a bit of 18th Century sauce and if I ask you what you thought afterwards don’t be too honest, after all revenge is my favourite word…

 

23 - 27 October 2007
Northampton College Studio Theatre, Booth Lane, Northampton

Page last updated: 15/02/2013 Masque Theatre © 2013

           

REVIEW
Ian Spiby, Masque Theatre member


What a trumphant start to the 2007/8 season! While everyone was talking about the recent adaptation of Fanny Hill on BBC television, Tamsyn Payne and her assistant director Alex Rex, produced the other 18th Century shocker from across the channel, Les Liaisons Dangereuses. And they did not put a foot wrong.

The set, cleverly limiting the space in the large studio area and brought forward to establish an intimacy with the audience, was ingeniously simple – three decorated screens and a few pieces of furniture which were rearranged for each of the 18 scenes. Costumes, carefully chosen for colour and texture gave the sumptuous air of the French aristocracy and the feeling of authenticity was enhanced by the use of accessories such as gloves, hats and fans – details so often forgotten even in professional productions.

Each change of scene was covered by a piece of music appropriately chosen to reflect the particular mood that had been established, together with a subtle lighting effect, both of which were ably managed by Joseph Brown and Mario Nobre.

The heavy weight of responsibility in the performance falls on the shoulders of the two central monsters of depravity, Merteuil and Valmont and Tamsyn was lucky to have two highly experienced and gifted actors in Patricia Coleman and Martin Williams. It would have been so tempting to play them merely as monsters but both performers conveyed a depth and range of characterisation. I was particularly impressed by the way that each of them was able to say one thing while letting the audience know they were thinking and feeling something else.

The innocent and virtuous victims of Valmont and Merteuil’s seduction and manipulation are difficult roles to tackle – there is far more to get your teeth into with a villain. But Kimberley Osmani and Denise Mazgaj as Cecile and Tourvel were excellent. Denise gave us a picture of a virtuous and upright woman wanting to do the right thing but struggling with the torment of her illicit love. In contrast, Kimberley provided gentle humour as the gauche young woman being introduced to the delights of sexual passion and not only finding she likes it but wants more! Her inamorato, Danceny, played by Paul Thornhill cut a handsome figure with just the right amount of callowness to make it believable that he would attract the lustful attentions of the voracious Merteuil.

The cameo roles of Rosemonde, Mme de Volanges and Emilie were performed with considerable aplomb. Pat Bancroft gave us the essence of a lively and kind old lady. Maggie Holland gave us the essence of a doting but concerned mother and Anne-Marie Sandos gave us the essence of the demi-monde character who lives by her wits and her sexual allure.

But without taking away from the achievements of the rest of the cast, the people I would single out for the highest praise were the four servants played by Mike Street, Neil K Bond, Gemma Knight and Vera Nobre who changed the scenery and saw to it that the production ran smoothly. Often a production is let down by such minor characters, either because they aren’t actually very good or because they don’t think they matter. But not these actors!

Organised ably by Gemma, they were ever-present in the background, bringing in whispered messages, conducting in visitors, discreet and unobtrusive as servants of the time had to be. And what was so impressive was not only did they work superbly as a team but they conveyed the fact that they had a life of their own, even where three of them had no lines to speak. There were effective details such as Mike swigging the remains of the Marquise’s sherry as he cleared away or Gemma and Vera having a rest and gossiping on the sofa about something before being bustled away by the Major-domo.

Congratulations to Tamsyn on a highly enjoyable success - and of course, the bows and curtseys were just right!

 

A scene from Les Liaisons Dangereuses
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