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DANGEROUS LIAISONS (article first published : 2004-07-28)

New work, challenging and thought-provoking work as well as relevant theatre – particularly in South Africa’s emerging democratic society – all have their important place on a professional arts scene. Occasionally, though, it’s fulfilling – and, oh, so soothing to the senses - to observe a stylish, sophisticated and beautifully designed production such as Dangerous Liaisons which opened last night at Kwasuka Theatre.

There’s a cast of no less than 12 performers, almost unheard of in these difficult financial times for the performing arts. This is thanks to funding by the National Arts Council, The Bartel Arts Trust, Amanda Cairns and Production Projects who have provided the wherewithal for Art for Africa and KickstArt to present Christopher Hampton’s play by special arrangement with Carlotto, Ramsay & Associates, London.

Dangerous Liaisons is based on the novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Pierre-Ambroise-François Choderlos de Laclos and was first presented at The Pit in London on January 8 1986 by the Royal Shakespeare Company. It also formed the basis for the films Dangerous Liaisons and later Cruel Intentions. The play features characters who have aristocratic European names, the likes of which we haven’t seen since the old Napac days when period pieces were affordable and often presented.

There are two main protagonists: La Marquise de Merteuil (Clare Mortimer) and Le Vicomte de Valmont (Steven Stead). We are in pre-revolutionary France and the guillotine’s crashing blade is not far off. The French aristocracy is decadent: too much money, luxury and sexual freedom … and too much time on their hands. Self-gratification becomes a form of entertainment.

Merteuil and Valmont have been lovers – in fact, their relationship goes deeper than either will acknowledge. Merteuil is a manipulator par excellence. Her maxim is “win or die” and she believes that love is “something you use, not fall into”. She calls on Valmont to extract sweet revenge on her former partner who likes his females unspoiled and has his eye on the gentle Madame de Tourvel (Belinda Henwood). Valmont’s job is to “spoil” the young Madame and in payment, he will be returned to the Marquise’s favours.

Into this scenario come Valmont’s aunt (Vera Clare), Madame de Volanges (Philippa Savage) and her nubile convent-educated daughter Cecile (Janna Ramos Violante) who initially attracts the attentions of Le Chevalier Danceny (Neil Coppen). With the help of his assistant Azolan (Bryan Hiles) and occasional forays into the arms of Emilie (Josette Eales), Valmont begins to weave his treacherous plot. Also in the cast are Carol Trench, Alison Cassels, Donnagh Roberts and Thomie Holtzhausen.

In the end both Merteuil and Valmont are caught in their own webs of deceit – the one dies, the other survives … and the shadow of the guillotine is getting closer! Claire Mortimer and Steven Stead carry the pace with strong performances and their final scene together is very powerful.

While all members of the cast acquit themselves well, it is notable that in their first professional drama production, Janna Ramos Violante and Josette Eales clearly staked their claim as names definitely to watch!

The production should be seen by all serious theatregoers – it is an extremely worthwhile evening’s entertainment with a top quality cast and both director Steven Stead and assistant director Greg King are to be congratulated for undertaking such an amibitous production. Terrence Bray’s costumes are all cream-toned elegance and Greg King’s pillared set and baroque floorcloth create a good period feel.

Dangerous Liaisons runs at Kwasuka Theatre from July 27 to August 14 at 20h00 with one matinee on August 7 at 14h00. Tickets R60. Book at Computicket. - Caroline Smart

NB The production contains nudity and is suggested for adult audiences only.




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