[THEATRE: Preview] Les Liasons Dangereuses
Les Liasons Dangereuses
By Emma McManus
Scandal, manipulation, lust, love, sordid secret affairs, destruction of innocence, human cruelty, sexual politics and a delectably devilish pair at the centre of it all… Have I caught your attention? Written in 1782 by Choderlos de Laclos, Les Liaisons Dangereuses’ central themes still resonate today. The story was turned into a play by Christopher Hampton for the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1985, and has since been adapted into Academy Award winning film Dangerous Liaisons and the massive teen hit Cruel Intentions, which transports the story to an American high school.
The play centres around two rivals, Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont, who will take to Sydney’s Wharf Theatre, brought to life by two of Australia’s finest actors Pamela Rabe and Hugo Weaving. Playing alongside them is an outstanding supporting cast including Justine Clarke and Heather Mitchell, under the direction of Sam Strong (Griffin Theatre), whose recent Sydney Festival production of The Boys was widely acclaimed.
James Mackay, who plays Le Chavalier Danceny (the music tutor who has an elicit affair with his student, the young CОcile de Volanges), tells me that the Sydney Theatre Company rendition has been “unhinged from its original context”. Rather than moving into a specific contemporary setting, the play has been carefully released from any confinements that the original setting created. MacKay explains, “It’s an incredibly specific world but [the story] could be happening anywhere at any time, and I think it’s really exciting because this production takes away a layer of distance between the audience and the play. There’s nowhere to hide with it, there’s no way that you can try to distance yourself from it by going, ‘Oh well they’re in corsets and wigs this is clearly 18th Century France so I don’t have to be affected by this, it’s irrelevant’. All of that has just been paired back, but without losing any of the elegance and beauty of the world. It’s a very clever trick actually, and it’s been done incredibly successfully”.
MacKay places the negotiation between the universal and the specific in the play as one of the productions biggest achievements. Explaining that “even though [the play] is pulled towards contemporary surroundings, all of those things about the Parisian world of the 18th Century, that set of manners and the importance of virtue, reputation and sin, and all of that stuff, which maybe isn’t as powerful a motivator socially in a contemporary setting, has been carried into this world”.
MacKay is no stranger to the play, having previously played Valmont – a devious schemer – at drama school (WAAPA). He speaks of the difficulty of ‘unlearning’ the play in relation to his new character, Danceny, who he sees as an innocent, in the truest sense of the word. “Because he’s so blind to a lot of it, you’ve got to find a way to express his ignorance of the schemes and the plans that are going on around him, without just simply appearing dumb. It’s a bit of a balancing act.”
MacKay’s enthusiasm is catching and when I ask him what he is most excited about coming up to opening night he immediately says, “It’s sold out! People are going to see it!” This is a genuinely exciting moment for any actor, especially after working in independent theatre, where “It’s a real battle to get people to come and see your show”. MacKay’s final musings turn to the show as a whole and the impending excitement of having an audience. “I’m excited to see what the final product is going to be because I think it’s going to be really thrilling, and I think it’s going to feel really dangerous, and I think it’s going to be a visceral trip for the audience… it’s an incredible cast and it’s a cast of people that I grew up seeing. I’ve seen all of these actors many times and it’s been an incredible treat to play with them in rehearsals. The thought of now getting on stage and doing it properly is, selfishly speaking, really exciting.”
What: Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Sam Strong
When: April 5 – June 9
Where: Sydney Theatre Company / Wharf 1 Hickson Rd, Walsh Bay
Posted: April 15th, 2012 under Arts, Arts - Interview, Brag 457 (April 9).
Tags: Emma McManus, Heather Mitchell, James Mackay, Justine Clarke, Les Liasons Dangereuses, Sam Strong, Sydney Theatre Company, The Brag