Deliciously decadent in all things revenge and ravishment related, Dangerous Liaisons bursts into the Brisbane Powerhouse’s MELT Queer festival. With an ostentatious design, gender reversed characters, a meticulous musical score and performances that are every bit as challenging as they are comedic, Little Ones Theatre brings a devilish spin to Christopher Hampton’s adaptation of Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’ classic text.
The aristocratic ensemble present issues of class, reputation, and trust, with director Stephen Nicolazzo exploiting the tragi-comedy’s eroticism, farcical nature, and underlying camp possibilities. Valmont (Janine Watson) and Mertuil (Alexandra Aldrich) drive the story’s lessons in the pleasures of revenge and sex, the politics of marriage and infidelity, and the overall importance of one’s weaknesses when in love. Aldrich shines as the conniving leading woman who seeks out revenge through the help of her ex-lover Valmont. Watson does well to maintain a subtle yet crucial masculinity to the alpha-male character Valmont, particularly when sharing scenes with Danceney played by Tom Dent, the lone male actor in the ensemble. As a pair, the two lead actresses hold their poise, power, and piercing personality when scheming for their own revenge which trickles down to influence the entire cast in one dangerous way or another. An honourable mention also goes to Amanda McGregor’s portrayal of the flowering teenage Cecile with a burning excitement for her development into womanhood before her wedding day and karaoke style performances of songs with a dazzling gold microphone.
Despite Catherine Davies’ effortless performance as both Azolan (Valmont’s energetic page) and the carnivorous courtesan Emilie, a subtle costume change, or rather, a stripping of costume down to a pair of pink underwear, worked against the differences between the two characters and blended the actress’ performance into one erotic tease for Valmont. While the ambiguity of this layering of characters was later amended through the script’s reveal of the courtesan, other choices seemed singular or too subtle, and were not used to their full effectiveness. A wiping away of makeup on both the endearingly defiant Tourvel (Brigid Gallagher) and her suitor Valmont displayed vulnerability just in time for tears to fall on naturally flushed skin. Other examples include an inconsistent use of female performers stripping down to reveal their bare breasts, a device which may have worked well if it were only used on the male characters they had been playing. Once again Emilie the Courtesan presented an ambiguity which came with confusing contradictions to the otherwise purposeful costume and gender reversed characterisation. If this very ambiguity was intentional, as if to portray a fluidity of gender, it would then join the other direction choices that were not applied to their full potential.
Despite a few inconsistencies in their use, when paired with the direction, the design team Eugyeene Teh and Tessa Pitt brought a rich contrast of matching gold curtains, tables, lounges and props as decadent as the Ferrero Rochers eaten live on stage, with powerful pink costumes which were as historically accurate as they were playful. Daniel Nixon and Russell Goldsmith’s sound design was equally as captivating, with a mixture of harpsichord period music and modern electronic, rock and roll, and disco hits being played, sung and danced to during scene transitions, movement sequences and strip teases.
Little Ones Theatre take a melodramatic period piece to create a fluidity of genders and sexuality and an orgy of sexual innuendos, breasts set free, and cheeky games of connect four.
– Written by Rhumer Diball February 6th 2016
DANGEROUS LIAISONS PRESENTED BY LITTLE ONES THEATRE & BRISBANE POWERHOUSE AS A PART OF MELT: A CELEBRATION OF QUEER ARTS AND CULTURE 2016
WED FEB 3 – SAT FEB 6, 2016.
Photo Credit Sarah Walker