Thérèse Raquin at Southwark Playhouse
Set in a dark corner of 1860’s Paris, playwright Émile Zola’s seminal work, Thérèse Raquin, explores the confinements of a sexless marriage, an illicit love affair and the brutalising consequences of guilt. The production at Southwark Playhouse is unbearable but utterly absorbing, as it captures the torturous and painful energy of Zola’s work and the psychology of crime. Instantly the set transports the audience into a shadowy Paris, a world of corruption, affairs and hauntings. It runs for two hours and forty-five minutes but remains engaging throughout – an indicator of a good play.
The cast is impressive: Lily Knight as Thérèse is particularly believable, capturing the frustrations and passions of a woman trapped in a sexless marriage, in a home that is more like a prison. The chemistry between Knight and Matthew Hopkinson’s Laurent is undeniable and makes the outcome of their illicit affair only more tragic. Alis Wyn Davies grows into her character, her final scenes have a spine-tingling intensity that leave the audience reeling in their seats.
The production does not hold back, nor is it over the top. The violence and hauntings have a shocking realism but more importantly contain the novel’s original flavour. Central to Zola’s work is a sense of entrapment, and the decision to never change the set from the dank Parisian boudoir, Thérèse’s marital prison, reinforces this. Scene changes are skilfully performed, drawing in on images of shadows, darkness and people committing unseen treacheries. There were a few minor malfunctions, including when part of the stage collapsed in on itself, but the cast showed their professionalism, continuing as if nothing happened. The choice of accents is perhaps the one contentious element of the play; rather than opting for French accents or none at all, the cast spoke with Northern English accents to signal that they were not from the city, which jarred with the Parisian set and features of the production.
It takes a great deal of skill to make a play as realistically gruesome as a film, but director Seb Harcombe succeeds. In the intimate theatre, the story becomes more shocking as the characters’ agonised screams reverberate around the room. It is a fascinating and horrific production that will leave the audience shocked – at least for the journey home.
Thérèse Raquin is at the Southwark Playhouse from 11th August to 3rd September 2016, for further information or to book visit here.