“WE all actually love people being cruel to each other and the sport of fucking around and manipulating people. With the amount of stuff that’s around in reality TV and popular culture, clearly people are drawn to it whether we like it or not.”

A desire to quench the parts of our humanity that crave scandal and manipulation is what lies at the heart of why audiences keep returning to the classic story of Dangerous Liaisons, according to the director of a new production heading to Brisbane during the MELT arts festival.

 First appearing in Melbourne in 2014, Stephen Nicolazzo’s version of Christopher Hampton’s play based on the 1782 novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Choderlos De Laclos, set during the extravagance and excess of the French Rococo period, is being told with decisively feminist and queerI voices.

Traditionally a heterosexual-centric play about an abuser of women, Nicolazzo wanted to use gender and queer politics along with humour to twist the story.

“What we had originally intended was always to dissect the idea of sexual identity and sexual politics through a story that is usually likened to heterosexual relationships, and tease out the queerness that was within the novel and bring that back into the mix,” he told the Star Observer.

“Taking into account so many versions of it are very, very straight and standard period pieces, of course that’s not to say they’re bad at all. We just wanted to do something completely different and take the piss out of it.

“The biggest change that we’ve explored is casting complete character/gender switches, where the men are playing the female characters and vice versa. In doing so we’re trying to explore gender identity and the complexities attached to that.”

Despite the dark and complex themes such as sexual abuse and cruelty, Nicolazzo said there would be humour.

“The first half is perfected very much like a French farce… it’s like Are You Being Served meets the French Rococo. I mean the set is a giant bloody Ferrero Rocher wrapper. It’s ridiculous,” he said.

“In the second act we cut all of that and bring the dark and emotional territory to the foreground. It’s all about the bullshit and frivolous nature of that era of French society and then contrasted with the more vicious terrain that lurks underneath.”

Nicolazzo said he was also hoping to introduce a modern-day version of the production many in the LGBTI community may or may not be familiar with.

“There are moments in this play that are totally referencing Cruel Intentions and we hope that we can introduce some younger people to the original play who may have missed the 1988 film,” he said.

“There is a real thrill and eroticism attached to watching [manipulation and cruelty] unfold and I think that’s why the book is still so juicy and exciting.

“It’s been translated into so many versions and told all over the world so it obviously has themes that have mass appeal to the parts of ourselves we maybe aren’t so keen to let others know about.”

The use of a mostly female cast is a further attempt by Nicolazzo to invert a story about sexism and abuse with a strong feminist voice.

“I think it’s a really appealing work for queer women as it’s dealing with transcendental ideas of sexuality,” he said.

“There is a huge speech in the play that the anti-hero gives where he says that from the day that you are born a woman you have to learn to understand that men are there to dominate the female sex but can ultimately be destroyed by them as well.

“For me it was all about the feminist ideas attached to that statement and one of the female characters who is a kind of a problematic feminism icon because she will not succumb to her desire for a man.

“Rather she prefers to hold power.”

Having already impressed audiences in Melbourne, Brisbane’s MELT festival is the next platform for Nicalazzo’s production.

“What I hope people get out of the play is an extraordinary experience in the theatre that doesn’t make them feel like idiots,” he said.

“The whole thing for me is that we can take something that is high art like Dangerous Liaisons and slap a harpsichord version of Chaka Khan’s Ain’t Nobody onto it.”

Dangerous Liaisons is running from February 3 to 5 at the Brisbane Powerhouse.

For details and tickets, click here.

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