The second NEON Festival of Independent Theatre opens with the dazzling high-camp, glitter-bright, subversion of Stephen Nicolazzo’s Little Ones Theatre.
Dangerous Liaisons is a 1985 play (which won lots of awards) by Christopher Hampton that’s based on Pierre Choderlos De Lacos’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses, a late-18th century novel consisting of letters between the characters. Being a story about the perverse sexual and moral corruption of the decadent French aristocracy, it never has problems being transported out of its context.
Marquise de Merteuil (Alexandra Aldrich) and Vicomte de Valmont (Janine Watson; it wouldn’t be a Nicolazzo play if gender wasn’t questioned) were once lovers, but prefer being BFFs. As Merteuil was dumped by a lover – for the first time – she enlists Valmont to seduce the dumper’s virgin bride-to-be (Amanda McGregor), who happens to be the daughter of another of Merteuil’s friends (Zoe Boesen). Valmont thinks a convent virgin seduction is too easy and sets himself a worthier target (Brigid Gallacher) and then it begins to get complicated (with Catherine Davies, Tom Dent and Joanne Sutton).
Eugyeene Teh’s set is a sunglasses-reaching explosion of gold luxury. This world is so rich that the curtains and floor are gold; until you look closely and see it’s paper-faux . Into this comes the outrageously lush French court costumes by Tessa Leigh Wolffenbuttel Pitt that are pink, hot-pink rose pink, magenta, glittery pink, see-through pink with bonus pinked-up nipples and sequins.
The stylised acting style is close-to-but-not-totally-over-the top and is as controlled-camp as the design. This heightens the language of the script and highlights its look at the power that women have in societies that still categorises women as respectfully married, convent-worthy virgins or worthless whores. From the magnificent pink to its all-but-one female cast, this Liaisons is all about the women’s sides of the arrangements.
But at over two hours (plus interval), its consistent style lets the exquisite pretty distract from the emotional connection to the story. Even with the incomparable Aldrich, it’s hard to feel for a women who’s on the verge of middle age and about to lose the only thing that gave her power when we’re waiting for the next marvellous line and guaranteed laugh.
While all of the delicious cast have unforgettable moments (really, they are all wonderful), Gallacher finds the most in her character and lets Madame de Tourvel’s heart meld with the style. The rest are nearly there and I think that week-two audiences will see the extra guts that was hinted at on opening night.
Little One’s influences and inspirations are clear on the stage, but they make work that couldn’t be re-created by anyone else. Nicolazzo has found artists who understand and share his vision and together they are one of the most authentic theatre voices around.