Devoted to the pursuit of ‘pleasure’, two rivals and ex-lovers engage in games of seduction and malignant influence in this racy play. Adapted by British playwright, screenwriter and film director Christopher Hampton from the novel by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, this much lauded work was the basis for the film Cruel Intentions, with Ryan Philippe, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Reece Witherspoon. Hampton and de Laclos’ witty and devilishly wicked writing is loaded with innuendo, double entendre and cracking repartee. Starting slow, the play warms up into a work that is outrageous by today’s standards, let alone when it was written. The WA Academy of Performing Arts’ third year acting students delivered it with passion and feeling, making the dated piece come to life once more.
George Pullar and Megan Smart star as Le Vicomte de Valmont and La Marquise de Merteuil, exuding depravity, maliciousness and low cunning. Over the course of a year some time in the 1780s, they electrify and terrify Paris with their sexual liberation. Alight with animal passions, they use Cecile de Volanges (Sophia Forrest), a Sweet Young Thing in search of a Genuine Young Man, and the pious and married Mme de Tourvel (Sarah Greenwood) as devices for amusement.
In a highly commendable performance as the Vicomte, Pullar stalks around the stage with a virtuous visage, duplicity masking the shark beneath. Smart also successfully embodies the Samson-snaring temptress La Marquise de Merteuil, a femme fatale for the ages.
As usual, WAAPA spares no expense when investing in their students, empowering ingenious and innovative set design from Nicola Stratman and period costume curated by Kaitlin Brindley. Performed in WAAPA’s Roundhouse Theatre, the thrust stage (where the audience is on three sides) was transformed into a number of different aristocratic homes using only four items of stage dressing, three of which comprised a chaise that was assembled in several fashions.
Initially, the Vicomte pursues Mme de Tourvel because he is a master of seduction who craves a fresh challenge. But, to his astonishment, he falls in love with her. In doing so, he attracts the ire of the Marquise, who orchestrates his undoing as they turn on one another and clash like snakes. It seems trite that he dies in something so commonplace (in theatre) as a duel, however it is fitting that after all his deceitful games the Vicomte died for love.
Words by Samuel J. Cox
Les Liaisons Dangereuses runs at WAAPA’s Roundhouse Theatre until 16 June. Tickets available here.