April 3, 2012
A ROLE as meaty as the arch seducer Valmont in Les Liaisons Dangereuses doesn’t come up often. When it does, you grab it.
Hugo Weaving considers himself fortunate to have performed it once, in Richard Cottrell’s production for Nimrod Theatre in 1987 at the Seymour Centre. To get a second crack is lucky indeed. The only problem, Weaving says, is you don’t get to choose when you play it.
“I was much too young, really, first time around,” Weaving says. “I was 27. Now I feel like I’m too old.”
Weaving, 51, imagines Valmont to be about 40. “Over the hill,” he says, a mite ruefully. “But back then, I was just too young to feel like a man who’s become bored with himself. He feels there must be something more to life. At 27, I could understand that intellectually but I couldn’t feel like that.”
Revisiting the role in the Sydney Theatre Company’s new production, Weaving recognises Valmont as a man who has arrived at a point where he knows something must change.
“He probably – unconsciously – would like to be in love with someone and just settle down and live in the country. But he would never admit that,” he says. “He would hate to lose his reputation as the great seducer, the great lover of all women, and so he’s in a bind.”
For the company’s production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses, which opens on Thursday, the director Sam Strong has worked on a contemporary feel. It’s not set in 1782, when Choderlos de Laclos wrote the original novel, or in an identifiable present, Weaving says. “It’s a timeless now, if you like, though you get a sense of elegance and wealth – European wealth, old money, I suppose – in the set and costumes.”
One of the challenges in rehearsal has been addressing the tone of Christopher Hampton’s script.
“The way in which Valmont seduces in 1782 and the way he would do it now, has to be very different,” Weaving says.
“You have to play it less front-on. I don’t think the passionate professions of love that Hampton’s written – like ‘falling to his knees and grasping her hand and kissing her hand’, which puts you into corset land a bit – can work today. There are at least three women in the play he’s seducing and they all require a different sort of energy and a different sort of attack.”
Les Liaisons Dangereuses opens at Wharf 1 on Thursday.