Thérèse Raquin at the Park
Imagine dark and dreary Parisian streets in 1860, incest, lust and murder. You would be visualising Emile Zola’s novel Thérèse Raquin, a gothic tragedy that shocked the higher classes into labelling the literary work as “putrid” obscenity. Its controversy lays in that Madam Raquin, Theresa’s aunt and Camille’s domineering mother, by her hellish hand makes warrants for the first cousins to marry. Nona Shepphard continues to provoke in her racy musical adaption at the Park Theatre.
Micromanaged by her aunt and milksop husband, Julie Atherton as Thérèse is sullenly silent through most of the first act, portraying stifled suppression, until volcanically she erupts with requited lust for Laurent (Greg Barnett) – a charming artist and Camille’s childhood friend. Therein a hot-bloodied affair ensues in the incestuous couple’s bedroom, upstairs from Raquin’s haberdashery shop. And a sinister tragedy follows.
The chemistry between Atherton and Barnett is powerful and sexy. Although his spoken words sometimes resonate as insincere, Barnett is intoxicating when serenading the audience: his sound strong and beautiful. And together with Atherton their voices blend beautifully to Craig Adam’s original and jagged score. Even so, Atherton, whose performance is impressive throughout, manages to steal the limelight. Her voice, warm, resonant and expressive, is a delight to listen to. Though it is regretful, but ironically apt, that her vocals are suppressed in the first half.
Nonetheless, the marvel of the show is Tara Hugo as the chilling aunt. Her acting is simply worldly. Ageing with an unnerving reality before your eyes, Hugo’s physicality stiffens to the inflexibility of a wooden beam. Unable to move little else than her mouth, her haunting gaze in Hugo’s final moments as a vengeful mother brims with bile and hatred, sending ripples of shivers across the theatre.
There are many words to describe this adaptation – interesting, haunting, strange – that it is hard to know what to make of it. Although captivating, at times the narrative is confusing and incongruous. At the end of the first act it is almost too easy to guess what happens next. In the second, Shepphard tells you to disregard that insight with the aim, no doubt, of keeping you in suspense – but it does not work. In fact, it just leaves you wondering where the play could go next. Then later, and rather abruptly, comes the big reveal. The same reveal that was so very apparent at the end of the first half.
If you are looking for a Les Misérables style musical, then this wouldn’t be the show for you. Although Adam’s irregular score complements Zola’s grisly story and draws you in, you will not come out of the theatre humming memorable sound bites. What you might do, though, is ponder the haunting images of this dark, very evocative play.
Thérèse Raquin is on at the Park Theatre until 24th August 2014, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch a preview of Thérèse Raquin here: