Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Bristol Old Vic

A dance without danger

By Toby O'Connor Morse
Thursday 27 March 2003 01:00

You can tell there are new hands on the wheel. The foyer of Bristol Old Vic has been denuded of its trimmings and stripped back to bare concrete. From the minute you step through the door, you know that this is now a serious theatre venue. David Farr and Simon Reade have been appointed as the new artistic directors, and their fiery manifesto published recently in The Independent declared that "provincial theatre is defunct".

It is therefore disappointing to report that the first production under the new regime is, well, provincial. It may be that Farr and Reade have decided to adopt a stealth approach that startles no horses, slowly building up to the harder stuff. If that is the case, they have underestimated the existing capacity of Bristolians to digest stimulating and exciting theatre. Even in the bad old days, Old Vic audiences could handle a bit more edge. As staged here, Les Liaisons Dangereuses would sit comfortably in one of the genteel provincial houses where a sports jacket and tie are still considered de rigueur for a trip to the theatre.

There is nothing inherently wrong with this production. Rupert Penry-Jones's Vicomte de Valmont is an exquisite blend of languid self-confidence and bleak misanthropy. The rest of the cast gives equally irreproachable performances. If there is any cause for complaint, it is that the scenes between Valmont and the Marquise de Merteuil (Dervla Kirwan), his partner in plotting and cynical game-playing, fail to fizz, because Kirwan is strangely glazed and prone to staring off into the middle distance.

Tom Piper's set is a pleasant enough conjunction of moving pillars and pastoral backdrop. The director Samuel West has done his job competently, ensuring that the jokes get the laughs, even if the bleakness that saturates Christopher Hampton's script is somewhat diluted. The scene changes are beautifully staged, sketching out the entr'acte actions in half-light. There is even a cameo appearance by a very fine Philip Treacy hat.

It is, in other words, a very decent provincial production of a pleasantly entertaining play. As the curtain-raiser for the Old Vic's reincarnation as "the national state theatre of Bristol" with the aim of offering "theatre that is genuinely challenging", Les Liaisons Dangereuses is worryingly undangerous.

To 5 April (0117 987 7877)

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