A (sort of) V-shaped seating configuration, one I’ve never seen before at the Bridewell Theatre, maximises the available performance space for this dance production of Dangerous Liaisons, set curiously both at the time of writing and into the near future – precisely, perhaps a year or two leading up to the 92nd Academy Awards, not to take place until 9 February 2020, and then its aftermath. To set all the dancing in context, a relatively brief preamble in the form of a news magazine programme called ‘All Access Hollywood’ introduces a large number of characters quite speedily, with interviews with Audrey Gercourt (Hannah Roberts), a movie director, together with members of the cast of her latest motion picture, ‘Daughters’.
It seeks to be unashamedly feminist – in another video towards the end of proceedings, Gercourt talks about the movie’s contribution to a “new age of film” where “women’s stories are no longer forced to sit at the back of the bus”. Elsewhere, an exploration of the term ‘feminist’ considers whether its proponents really do wish for ‘equal rights’. The line of argument could be considered somewhat superficial (where, for instance, do non-binary persons fit into a reorganised world in which ‘the patriarchy’ has been subjugated?) but as far as this contemporary narrative derived from a 1782 novel goes, it suffices – just about.
Central to the action, perhaps ironically, are two men, Alec Merteuil (Peter Stonnell), the ex-partner of Gercourt who now seeks to destroy her reputation, and Sebastian Valmont (Olivier Mamet), billed as the leading man in Gercourt’s movie. The main elements of the novel are retained – Valmont seduces Amanda Tourvel (Lisa Eastman), an actress in Gercourt’s movie billed as a ‘Hollywood icon’, but later rejects her, having been persuaded by the ever-devious Merteuil to do so.
Her pain is palpably expressed through dance, movement and tears, even if I felt she ought to dust herself off and realise that there’s plenty more fish in the sea. Valmont takes up Merteuil’s encouragement to win over Cecile Volanges (an energetic Rachel Savage), another actress in Gercourt’s film, but she has fallen in love with Aaron Danceny (Wing Ho Lin), one of the film’s creative team (at least, I think that’s what the character’s narrative purpose was). In yet another twist, Merteuil and Danceny are discovered in bed together in a later scene.
Even the duel in the novel between Danceny and Valmont is worked into the storyline, though of course – without giving too much away – a duel isn’t really a duel at all without weapons. The dances are performed to the rhythms of recorded music, though it seems something of a glaring omission to have left out who played what instruments from the show’s programme, or indeed who composed what. What I can say is that the music was, taken overall, a good mix of high tempo and more mellow numbers.
Two of the scenes were set in ‘rehearsal studios’, and although some efforts were made to portray an authentic rehearsal process, it could, to be blunt, have been more convincing. It was of some amusement to me that characters (for the most part, anyway) picked up from the directors and choreographers on what they were being asked to do with implausible speed and accuracy. There’s a decent amount of fancy footwork for those who want to enjoy a production of this kind without having to pay too much attention to the storyline. While the narrative arc isn’t always watertight, the dancing is, which I suppose is the main thing here. Aspects of this dynamic production highlight the fickleness and superficiality that continues to exist in the entertainment industry. Slightly exhausting to watch but nonetheless worthwhile.
London lad, loving life and all that it has to offer.