by Christopher Hampton.

Salisbury Playhouse Malthouse Lane SP2 7RA To 22 May 2010.
Mon-Wed 7.30pm Thu-Sat 8pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Audio-described 20 May 2.30pm & 8pm.
BSL Signed 19 May.
Post Show Discussion, 18 May.
Theatre Day 13 May 11.30am.
Runs 2hr 25min One interval.

TICKETS: 01722 32033.
Review: Mark Courtice 30 April.

Carry on up the Bois de Vincennes.
In pre-revolutionary Paris two vicious aristocrats goad each other into greater betrayals and cruelties as they avenge imagined slights and demonstrate their superiority. Despite being nasty, Vicomte Valmont and the Marquise de Merteuil have the glittering attraction of the truly evil, and there is nothing they won’t do to get their way.

With these two characters at the centre, the assorted fools, hypocrites and nice people who surround then don’t stand a chance either in dramatic or philosophical terms.

The story, based on Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’s epistolatory novel, therefore comes across on stage as lop-sided, its origins betrayed by chunks of talking alongside the sex and quarrelling. Nonetheless, Christopher Hampton’s adaptation has real drama, especially in the doomed relationship between Valmont and the only nice person in the story, Madame de Tourvel. The exchanges between our two villains are splendidly spiky.

At Salisbury, everything looks terrific. Mike Britton’s shiny black and silver stage with elaborately framed glass screens shimmers treacherously. The costumes are sumptuous. Flickering candles illuminate fitfully – daylight is kept at bay so it’s a shock when the action moves outside for a climactic duel. Sinister rumblings undermine the nimble rhythms of Richard Hammarton’s clever period music score.

Despite getting all the appearance-obsessed gloss of France’s Ancien Régime right, Toby Frow’s production gives up on the corresponding complex glitter of the text. It’s often very funny – in Carry On film style no entendre is left undoubled – but subtle it isn’t.

For example, Valmont’s played as a sort of priapic labrador bounding all over the stage and trying to mate with everything including the furniture. If Richard Clothier had moustaches he’d be twirling them, energetically.

More subtle and consistent, Ruth Gemmell’s de Merteuil is a Bond villain, sinning with steely languor, spreading her stylish poison in silky tones. If she had a white cat she’d be stroking it, sinisterly.

Alongside these, there’s a thoughtful, detailed, moving portrayal by Zoe Telford of the unfortunate Madame de Tourvel, which feels like it’s from another production. Despite the knockabout pleasures here, it would have been interesting to see that one.

Mme de Volanges: Rebecca Charles.
Le Vicomte de Valmont: Richard Clothier.
Cecile Volange: Lauren Crace.
La Marquise de Merteuil: Ruth Gemmell.
Le Chevalier Danceny: Sam Marks.
Mme de Rosemonde: Eileen Page.
Emilie: Carlyss Peer.
Azolan/Major-domo: Michael Stevenson.
La Presidente de Tourvel: Zoe Telford.

Director: Toby Frow.
Designer: Mike Britton.
Lighting: Johanna Town.
Sound/Music: Richard Hammarton.

2010-05-03 13:21:55

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