Thėrèse Raquin

When the cover of a play script declares it to be ‘a radical interpretation’, it feels like a warning or even an apology. Personally I wouldn’t call Thėrèse Raquin radical at all. Ambitious, yes. Surreal – very. And far too long.
Orphan Thėrèse is trapped in a loveless marriage with her sickly cousin Camille and spends all day in a shop with her aunt. To hide from the world, she retreats into her shell and barely speaks. But one day Camille brings home an old friend and Thėrèse realises that there may be more to life…
Adultery, murder and suicide are popular topics for modern musicals and Thėrèse Raquin has them in abundance. Émile Zola’s original story is dark and haunting and Nona Shepphard has captured this well in her adaptation. However, it just doesn’t work as a musical. Whilst the score is melodic and spine tingling, the singing feels unnecessary and detracts from the words.
The cast perform well, particularly Ben Lewis as Laurent, but the singing standard varies dramatically. Acting on the other hand is good, with fluid movements that feel very natural, particularly the scenes of passion.
Act I drags on and on until Julie Atherton’s Thėrèse finally finds her voice and the show starts to come alive. Act II begins with a piercing scream, but feels quite rushed; the episodes at the end would have been far more effective if they’d been slightly longer, with more obvious breaks between each one.
However, the morgue scene is wonderfully eerie, with clever use of white sheets and a torch to depict the waxy faces of the dead and ironically the performance of Jeremy Legat (Camille) improves significantly once his character has drowned.
Although this interpretation of Thėrèse Raquin is commendable, it would be far more effective with just music, movement and words. Most of the script has a rich poetic feeling and should be performed, not sung.
Reviewed by Michaela Clement-Hayes