With its powerful mix of sexual intrigue, seduction and double dealing, Christopher Hampton's play was an immediate hit in 1985. Adapted brilliantly from Laclos' 1782 novel, it's been staged, filmed and broadcast many times – and even had the honour of a full-scale French and Saunders interpretation, complete with enormous fans, all the better for whispering behind.
There are no fans fluttering in Josie Rourke's production. As La Marquise de Merteuil, Janet McTeer is a woman who'd scorn the need to hide behind anything. Her height, her beauty and that mesmerising voice all serve to create an intensely striking anti-heroine who mercilessly plots the downfall of virtue wherever she finds it.
Dominic West certainly has the presence and the charismatic looks of the Vicomte de Valmont, and his seduction scenes have a sinister fascination. He lays waste to Morfydd Clark's adorable Cecile, before moving on to destroy the life of Madame de Tourvel, delicately played with touching anguish by Elaine Cassidy.
Yet while both the leads give strong performances in many respects, there's a constraint between Merteuil and Valmont that makes their status – as former lovers who are still on a slow simmer – not entirely comfortable. Their partnership is much more effective when it later explodes with jealousy and the sparring is no longer a stimulating joke, but full of deadly threats.
Theo Barklem-Biggs brings a wry humour to Azolan, and Una Stubbs delivers an impeccable, kindly Madame de Rosemonde. Edward Holcroft excels as ardent, charming Danceny, who proves to have more resolution that anyone might have anticipated. He also gets the benefit of fight director Richard Ryan's fiery work with the duelling scene.
The design by Tom Scutt is entirely stunning, creating eighteenth century faded grandeur on a huge scale. The jaded antics of the conspirators are coming to an end, and that's reflected in the torn, tattered fittings amid the gorgeous gilt and glittering chandeliers. The costumes are outstanding too, with corsetry that does wonders for decolletages all round, and lavish sweeps of silk and gauze.
The sound is another strength, with live singing during scene changes creating an appropriately unsettling atmosphere, courtesy of composer-in-residence Michael Bruce.
Despite its visual beauty, this production still feels as though it is bedding in, so to speak, with an uncomfortable number of vocal stumbles throughout. But no doubt these will have been ironed out by the time it's broadcast live to 600 UK cinemas and around the world on 28 January, as part of the National Theatre Live.
Hampton's adaptation has ensured the continuing success of Laclos' work, and in Rourke's production his 'merciless intelligence' still shines through.
Les Liaisons Dangereuses runs at the Donmar Warehouse until 13 February.