Entertainment & Arts

Liaisons still dangerous 30 years on

Dominic West and Janet McTeer in Les Liaisons Dangereuses Image copyright Johan Persson
Image caption Dominic West and Janet McTeer play 'Valmont' and 'Merteuil' in Les Liaisons Dangereuses

Critics have welcomed a new production of Christopher Hampton's Les Liaisons Dangereuses that has opened in London 30 years on from the original staging.

In its four-star review, the Telegraph said it could still "engulf an audience in a heady, intoxicating aroma".

First staged by the RSC in 1985, it later became an Oscar-winning film.

The Donmar Warehouse's revival made headlines in October when Downton Abbey star Michelle Dockery withdrew from the show shortly before rehearsals began.

It recently emerged that the actress, who was replaced in the production by The Paradise and No Offence star Elaine Cassidy, had suffered a personal bereavement.

Based on a 1782 novel by Choderlos de Laclos made up entirely of letters, Les Liaisons Dangereuses tells of two French aristocrats who indulge in seduction and intrigue for their own private amusement.

Dominic West and Janet McTeer play the lead roles, characters Alan Rickman and Lindsay Duncan played in the original production, and that John Malkovich and Glenn Close portrayed on screen.

Speaking after Thursday's press night, West said the play was "a definite classic" that "holds up well" three decades on.

Image copyright ITV/Johan Persson
Image caption Cassidy (right) was cast as 'Madame de Tourvel' after Dockery (left) withdrew from the show

"This is something that was done 30 years ago and it will still be done in 30 years' time," added the actor, whose other recent roles include an adulterous husband in TV drama The Affair.

"The more you explore it the better it gets," said McTeer, adding that she and her co-star had been "determined to be wicked and have fun".

"Dom is a fiery, visceral man and he's so much fun to play opposite," she went on. "It's dangerous and witty and delicious."

"When you've got great writing it never ages," said Cassidy, whose role as conflicted spouse Madame de Tourvel was played by Juliet Stevenson in 1985 and by Michelle Pfeiffer in Stephen Frears' 1988 film, released as Dangerous Liaisons.

In its four-star review, Time Out said the play was "a splash dated [but] hardly without resonance in our own jaded age".

Its critic went on to praise McTeer for her "sensational" display of "goggle-eyed malevolence, cruel amusement [and] stark sex appeal."

The Stage was similarly effusive about what it called "a sumptuously dressed, imaginative anniversary production".

The Evening Standard, meanwhile, said Hampton's "pitch-black comedy of manners" was "theatre at its most seductive and sinister".

"Josie Rourke's respectful revival... is a handsome and mirthful affair, albeit low on sex or surprises," said the Hollywood Reporter.

Image copyright Johan Persson
Image caption Edward Holcroft, recently seen in the BBC's London Spy, also appears in the sold-out revival

Its review, which goes on to praise Hampton's "rapier-witted dialogue", is one of several to make reference to Dockery's departure.

Asked to comment on the recasting of the Madame de Tourvel role, West said it had taken place before rehearsals began and had been "fine".

"It wasn't like a Kim Cattrall," he continued - a reference to the Sex and the City star's exit from Royal Court play Linda, which happened shortly before the production began its preview period.

Rourke - the Donmar's artistic director as well as the director of its latest sold-out offering - said Dockery was "a wonderful person and an incredible actor".

"I really hope she'll be able to come back to the theatre soon and I think everybody understands why she was unable to do this production," she went on.

Les Liaisons Dangereuses runs at the Donmar Warehouse until 13 February and will be broadcast live in cinemas on 28 January.

Actress Lesley Manville, who played Cecile de Volanges when Hampton's play opened at the RSC's Other Place theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon in September 1985, was among the audience on Thursday night.

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