Thérèse Raquin by Émile Zola, adapted by Helen Edmundson
Reviewed by Lee Farley at Malvern Theatres
Helen Edmundson is well known for her stage adaptations of literary classics. She powerfully emphasises the inner life of the main (usually) female character using modern theatrical methods. Thérèse Raquin is no different, but the methodology seems somewhat dated now and this production has many flaws, resulting in an evening which fails to engage.
Zola’s 1867 novel has been adapted for the stage many times, including an early version by the French novelist himself. There’s certainly plenty of drama in the storyline – a classic love triangle which is doomed to result in misery. This adaptation attempts to reveal something of Thérèse’s fear and horror but does so in a literal, predictable way.
A large, movable set has to change quickly from drawing room to bedroom and back again. This stage-shifting slows down the action interminably – poor Pippa Nixon has to get in and out of her corset almost constantly. The energy and passion which the actors are striving towards is consistently undermined by the over-reliance on the clunky set and huge pieces of furniture. A touring show will understandably have minor technical problems, but this one has views into the wings, doors which don’t close when they should and at one point flats moving during a scene. Distracting and clumsy.
There’s also a heavy over-reliance on music to add atmosphere which lacks any subtlety, coupled with some cheap and incongruous “Woman in Black”-style horror movie clichè moments which are employed merely to shock the audience. I was much more interested in the characters but too little time was spent developing them and too much time spent moving scenery and jumping in and out of corsets. We were also subjected to scene after scene of unsubtle dramatic irony. The Thursday evening dominoes club seemingly only occurs to provide us with cheap chuckles – “This is such a happy household” etc.
In a melodramatic production, the only saving graces are the performances, particularly Pippa Nixon’s Thérèse and Hugh Skinner’s Camille – they bring a realism and intelligence to the production which is sadly not mirrored by the design or direction.