Review: Janet McTeer and Dominic West, the Machiavellian seductors in Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Donmar Warehouse
The many candles flickering in the chandeliers above the Donmar stage don't hide the faded grandeur of the set. The aristocracy in 18th century France, beautifully and opulently turned out and yet the walls of the salon in which they congregate are peeling and the art is packed away. Given the amoral nature of the protagonists, the Marquise de Merteuil (Janet McTeer) and Vicomte de Valmont (Dominic West), it feels like a physical embodiment of moral decline.
Christopher Hampton's play is based on Pierre Choderlos de Laclos' novel written in the years before the French Revolution and is set in the world of ex-lovers Merteuil and Valmont who use seduction as a weapon to humiliate and degrade others. They do it for revenge, they do it to challenge and amuse each other. They have no remorse.
Merteuil wants Vicomte to seduce young virgin Cecile (Morfydd Clark) in order to spoil her for her future husband who is an ex-lover of Merteuil's on whom she wants to take revenge. Vicomte thinks the task to easy for his skills and instead sets his sights on married Madame de Tourvel (Elaine Cassidy) who is staying with his aunt and has a peerlessly virtuous reputation. Merteuil request written proof of his success with de Tourvel and in return she agrees to sleep with him again. When he realises that de Tourvel has been warned about his own, less than virtuous, reputation by Cecile's mother it is game on.