3 May 2012
"A review by Nicholas Newman"
Wednesday 2 - Saturday 5 May
Last Wednesday's production (2 May) of Dangerous Liaisons at the Oxford Playhouse performed by Oxford students was
well worth seeing! This is a stage adaptation of the book’ Les Liaisons Dangerous’ by Pierre Choderlos in 1782. In
its day, it was as revolutionary to French literature as Lady Chatterley's Lover was to English literature in
However, those expecting to see a stage version of the Academy Award winning film of the same name, produced by
Christopher Hampton in 1985 will be in for a surprise. Basically, this play is even better than the 1985 film. It
is a tragic comedy in the best traditions of Feydeau farce. In a sense it is a development of Shakespeare's Romeo
and Juliet. In this case the Romeo character Vicomte de Valmont is masterly played by leading man Ziad Sahaha and
Juliet character Cecile de Tourvel played by Ella Waldman. However, these characters are being manipulated for
pleasure and to relieve the boredom by the puppet master in this story, Marquise de Mertuil, portrayed by Alice
Porter, who has the makings of a next Helen Mirran.
Essentially, this story is about Valmont agreeing in a bet with Mertuil, that if he can seduce Cecile, the highly
religious and devoted wife of a judge, the puppet master will agree to spend one night in bed with Vicomte de
How Valmont attempts to break down the barriers that protect Cecile devotion to God and her husband, is
essentially what this story is about. Unlike in Romeo and Juliet where love was portrayed as some perfect
impossible ideal, Dangerous Liaisons is about how love is just another weapon in the sexual politics between man
and woman. However, as such a weapon, it demonstrates that all is not fair in love and war. What is most amazing is
the repartee between actors as they fence with the words in their power games.
As for the production itself, the acting as performed was superb; one felt the characters had been brought fully
to life. Though, many in the audience had concerns over the health and safety of the performers. Many felt that the
high stilettos, worn by Ella Waldman were a potential hazard which could have caused her to fall over, especially
when Ella had to move across the set to new positions during the transition from scene to scene. In addition, in
the sword fighting scene with rapiers, although it was an unconvincing sham stage fighting, several of my
neighbours in the audience were anxious that the actors concerned were not wearing protective vests under their
The work of the director, sound, lighting and stage crew was what one would expect from a top-class stage
production in the West End. I especially appreciated the musical accompaniment played by the piano player
throughout the performance.