Gay News Network
April 3, 2012
Sydney Theatre Company’s latest production is a classic tale of revenge, seduction and power, writes Garrett Bithell.
In Christopher Hampton’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses, from the famous novel by Choderlos de Laclos, the Vicomte de Valmont and the Marquise de Merteuil manipulate everyone around them with the precision of master puppeteers. Plotting an elaborate game of revenge, seduction, humiliation and cruelty, these combatants stoop to the lowest of levels of deviousness in order to win. Their crossfire is indiscriminate, making casualties of friends and foe alike, including the virtuous Madame de Tourvel.
“She is known for her religious fervour, her strict morals, and the sanctity of her marriage,” says Justine Clarke, who plays Madame de Tourvel in Sydney Theatre Company’s new production, directed by Griffin’s Artistic Director Sam Strong. “She’s very loyal, very forgiving, and she doesn’t want to hurt anyone. But she just happens to meet someone – Valmont – who is intent on disrupting all that.
“That’s Valmont’s game – the battle between love and virtue. He wants to convert her to him and away from God.”
The language of Hampton’s play is deliciously meaty, perfectly serving its exploration of power and human malice. The central clash between Valmont and Merteuil, played in Strong’s production by Hugo Weaving and Pamela Rabe, is explosive, like a well-timed and articulate fencing match. But, make no mistake, Tourvel holds her own.
“They’re all on the front foot,” Clarke says. “They’re very good at batting back in response to something and winning – including Tourvel, and I think that’s what Valmont love about her as well.”
When Choderlos de Laclos wrote the original novel in 1782, it was largely seen to be a critique of the moral decay amongst the French aristocracy just prior to the Revolution. “I think he was trying to point out how subversive we can be when heavy, strict morals are imposed on us,” Clarke asserts. “But in our version, it’s about how hard and how far you can go to win. It’s almost about pride and vanity and power.”
Indeed Strong has stripped away the late 18th century artifice, and made the period deliberately non-specific. But in our post-GFC era, the fundamental morality tale still resonates strongly. “At the moment incredibly rich people in our society are seen as a blight in a way,” Clarke says. “Since the GFC, there’s been a backlash again them. I think we want to see incredibly wealthy people self-destruct.
“We are focussing on what people are doing to other people, and how people’s belief structures are being blown apart or changed on somebody’s whim – these fabulously wicked characters that are using seduction as a game or a weapon.”
[Pictured] Justine Clarke stars in Les Liaisons Dangereuses.