Good Lord! Will the Park Theatre ever stage a bad show? If the latest offering of Theatre Bench’s new adaptation of Emile Zola’s turn-of-the-century classic, Thérése Raquin is anything to go by, probably not. A dark and pulsating musical set in Victorian Paris, the show follows the repressed Thérése as she breaks out from her dull little life and embarks on a passionate affair that eventually leads to her downfall.
Craig Adams and Nona Shepphard’s stunning new score is full of delicate and intricate vocal layers which the cast revel in. Numbers such as ‘A Highly Respectable Orgy’ bring the whole cast together in a rousing hit, while Adams and Shepphard’s Thérése Raquin motif is hauntingly beautiful and brings the whole piece together. Shepphard’s book also keeps in propelled motion and the adaptation itself is stylish and keeps the audience on tenterhooks. Shepphard makes bold decisions, such as keeping her leading lady silent for the majority of act one, or opening with a biological breakdown of the human form, and they pay off tenfold.
Laura Cordery’s design is stripped back to bare, industrial essentials but little touches of details root the action in reality. The haberdasher’s shop which Thérése and Madame spend their days is covered in trinkets, threads, buttons and beautiful trinkets which only adds to the mundane nature of Thérése’s life. Neil Fraser’s lighting design adds a sprinkling of theatricality and several scenes are notably heightened by the eerie and well plotted lights.
As Thérése, Julie Atherton plays a woman of two halves. At first she watches and waits with a cold and distant air, but once she lays eyes on Greg Barnett’s Laurent it’s like watching a lion devour a baby gazelle. Atherton brings a raw and desperate quality to the role and her chemistry with Barnett is damn erotic to watch. As Thérése’s lover, Barnett has a shaky start and struggles slightly with the ambitious score. However, following his haunting solo in a Parisian morgue, Barnett brings a sizzling masculine energy to the role. The highlight of the show has to be Tara Hugo’s sensational performance as Madame Raquin, Theérése’s smothering mother-in-law. At first she molly-coddles about the stage, full of kittens and cakes like any other little old lady, but throughout the show Hugo’s physicality stiffens and ages so realistically you feel like demanding someone give the poor lady their seat on the tube. But it is Hugo’s final moments as a vengeful mother, filled with bile and hatred which send shivers down your spine.
Thérése Raquin is a slickly delivered and highly original musical that delivers Emile Zola’s story in a gripping way. I wouldn’t be surprised if this show transferred but my only hope is that it manages to hold on to its intimacy.
Reviewed by Roz Carter
Thérése Raquin is playing at the Park Theatre until 24 August 2014. Click here to book tickets.