Theatre in Wales

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Another Classy Production from Mappa Mundi

At Mappa Mundi

Mappa Mundi / Theatr Mwldan- Dangerous Liaisons , Theatr Mwldan, Cardigan , April-26-10
At Mappa Mundi by Mappa Mundi / Theatr Mwldan- Dangerous Liaisons Lilting harpsichord music fills the auditorium. As an audience we know exactly where we are, prepared for a play set in pre-revolutionary France, all taffetas, grace and aristocracy. The lights go down and the cast of eight, lit from behind, assembles for a formal dance; except that the harpsichord has been overlaid with Adam and the Ants'“We are Family” underpinned by a ferocious drumming.

It is very Mappa Mundi, but the choice of music is also clever. It is a pointer that the characters are barely family, and where family does exist it makes faint claim to any moral tutelage. In a small but clever touch in Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones’ direction a passing physical gesture on the part of Christine Pritchard’s Madame de Rosemond’s to her nephew signifies her tacit approval of his behaviour. As for Kathryn Dimery’s Madame de Volange daughter Cecile is little more than prospective marriage material for social and monetary advantage. That Matthew Bulgo’s Comte de Gercourt is three times her age is of no account.

Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones is also his own costume designer. His achievement, possibly a motivation too, is to wipe out any memory of all those creams and whites in which the film dressed Michelle Pfeiffer and Glenn Close. The dress is themed to be as dark as the action. Kathryn Dimery has copper hair piled high and a jutting piece of headgear that adds six inches to her stature. Earrings dangle to her throat. Lynne Seymour’s Marquise de Merteuil is similar. A cluster of diamonds glitter around her neck and on her earrings. Significantly the previously unadorned Cecile is presented with jewels after her moral debauching. The dark spidery look is repeated in the first appearance of Keiron Self’s Vicomte de Valmont with a piece of black headwear so feathery that it is almost a nest.

This version of “Dangerous Liaisons” is not Christopher Hampton’s. It is a joint enterprise of the company, well done, with many fine and long sentences.
A line like “You do nothing without calculated malevolence” may be theirs or may be that of Choderlos de Laclos. Whatever, the speaking is beautifully patterned and enunciated by all the cast.

Structurally, there isn’t a novel that does not transfer gawkily to the stage. A text that is intended for the stage is sewn with references forward and backwards that binds it together. The first half of “Dangerous Liaisons” is an accumulation of plot actions. The audience has to wait until the second half for the thematic bite to take hold.

That bite has a grip of modernity to it that belies the 1782 year of its authorship. With lines like “I was born to dominate your sex and avenge my own” Marquise de Merteuil is an entirely new female persona in fiction. Lynne Seymour plays her to the hilt with a sensual mix of independence and allure. The over-riding need for “control of my destiny” demands a price, the need for autonomy predicated on emotional detachment. “Shame is like pain. It is felt only once” she tells young Cecile as she considers the prospect of wealth within marriage and erotic adventure without. Madame de Merteuil’s line on hearing of the demise of a woman of virtue “she was and is of no consequence” is one to shock.

“Love in the plays of Marivaux” says a critic “gets you in touch with everything...Love is the key to self-knowledge.” But “Dangerous Liaisons” is all about the opposite. It probes that most widespread of fallacies, that love is the fulfillment of ego. In only one instance here is the opposite revealed, that love asks less for the ascendancy of ego than its yielding. Valmont’s emotional self-shredding is rooted in a one fear that over-arches everything. The fear of social humiliation, even if self-imagined, has to favour cruelty over the risk of being laughed at. His anthem of “I have no choice” is the ultimate expression of the lack of self-knowledge.

As for the acting Jenny Livsey’s Madame de Tourvel exhibits the real pain of virtue under assault. Kathryn Dimery’s voice has a beautiful shift of register upon discovering her daughter’s love letters to Edward Harrison’s Danceny. Lizzie Rogan takes her character from a giggling fifteen year old to a seared child bride. Kieron Self in his fur-trimmed satin house-wear is the embodiment of projected masculine force with all the character’s rapid manipulative switches.

Carl Davies’ set is of blue veined marble and a floor of diagonal tiles. A back projection of an unidentified aristocrat oversees much of the action, followed by a picture of seduction. A letter-writing scene is saucily staged to echo the picture. In a neat circular reference it is a reminder not just that Boucher’s famous painting of Marie-Louise O'Murphy was done at a now unthinkable fourteen years of age but that Fragonard illustrations accompanied the first edition of Choderlos de Laclos’ novel.

It is good that an audience does not become over-comfortable with a company. All credit then to Mappa Mundi’s artistic directorate for carrying out a major shift of gear from the last few years.



“Dangerous Liaisons” tours Wales and England until 27th June.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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