There is nothing very dangerous about the Royal Lyceum's liaison with Christopher Hampton's adaptation of Choderlos de Laclos' epistolary novel, set amidst the indolent French aristocracy just a few years before the French revolution.
It is as if director John Dove had rolled back the decades to the time when the Lyceum's audience's demanded little more than a well-told plot, a touch of titillation and a well-titivated cast; which is to say that this looks and sounds good, without ever getting inside what is being said on stage.
Dugald Bruce-Lockhart is in fine form as the pampered and promiscuous Vicomte de Valmont, who has set his heart on bedding the virtuous and monogamous Président de Tourvel (Candida Benson) who is staying at his aunt's country mansion while Tourvel's husband is away.
You can believe that Valmont's thrill is in the chase. So that when his ex-lover, the widowed Marquise de Merteuil (Tilly Blackwood), asks him to seduce and deflower Cécile (Siobhan Reilly), a young virgin who Merteuil's current amour has just left her to marry, he refuses the task as being too easy. However, the scheming Merteuil soon has him doing her bidding - and more.
The supporting roles are well-enough performed to ensure that the mutually assured destruction of Valmont and Merteuil falls out as it should. Reilly could be a tad more greedy for education as Valmont's pupil in love, but is otherwise deliciously coy. Benson provides real passion when, at last, Tourvel is seduced. And James Mackenzie as Merteuil's own latest conquest, Danceny, is solidly reliable.
Unfortunately, Tilly Blackwood never succeeds in finding Merteuil's cutting edge of cruelty. It is as if it were all just another parlour game of cards, by which she is merely bored - instead of the very thing which can give her life meaning away from such pettiness. And it's an attitude that permeates her delivery and seeps into the rest of the production.
Consequently, there's no feeling that you're watching a decadent class in final decline. Nor is there the laying bare of Machiavellian emotional manipulation which is going on between the characters. Despite a tense final duel, it ends up being a liaison douce.
- Thom Dibdin