Emile Zola’s Therese Raquin usually conjures up misery on a grand scale and is one to avoid if you’re after a light hearted trip to the theatre. But when Alison Steadman is playing the role of Madame Raquin, you’re sure it will definitely be alright on the night. This new adaptation by Helen Edmundson of Zola’s most well known novel is more than alright, it is excellent. The superb Alison Steadman, aided and abetted by a stellar cast and director Jonathan Munby, ensures that there are periods of lightness and even humour amidst the gloom of this tragic crime of passion. Added to this are balletic sequences encapsulated within the many scene changes plus several ghostly apparitions, making this a truly mesmeric production.
Alison Steadman’s Madame Raquin, is foster mother of Therese (Pippa Nixon) and doting and interfering mother of Camille (Hugh Skinner). Deliriously happy at having engineered the marriage of her one natural child to the other, Madame Raquin will eventually come to rue the event. For Therese has no romantic love for the sickly, unworldly boy and of this we are sure from the outset. Speaking little and blending into the background, her character only comes alive when introduced to Camille’s friend, Laurent (Kieran Bew). And, oh my, how alive. Suddenly this supposedly meek and mild nonentity metamorphoses into a wild child, hungry for all the bedroom delights that the poor Camille is unable to provide but Laurent can. The only problem is that this all-consuming passion between Therese and Laurent has tragic consequences for everyone concerned. I will say no more regarding the plot, apart from the fact that it involves murder, followed closely by gut wrenching remorse.
I’ve already mentioned the delights of Alison Steadman, who not only brilliantly depicts the loving mother who can’t stop herself poking her nose in at every opportunity, but also the horrendous state of being locked within her own body after suffering a stroke towards the end of the play. Pippa Nixon inhabits Therese with every fibre of her body and manages to convey almost every emotion going. She must be exhausted at the end of every performance. The two main male actors are also exemplary. Hugh Skinner infuriates and instils both negative and positive reactions from the audience. We’re against and for his Camille in equal measure and he ensures we experience a spine tingling spookiness in the second half. On the other hand, Kieran Bew, playing his eventual nemesis, portrays a natural charm and has no difficulty in persuading us that it is more than possible for Therese to be immediately captivated.
There is also excellent support from the three friends who arrive at the Raquin’s apartment in Paris every Thursday for a game of dominoes and inject a little much needed humour to the proceedings. Desmond Barrit, is Superintendent Michaud, his niece, Suzanne is played by Charlotte Mills and the obsessive compulsive Grivet, is brought to creepy life by Michael Mears.
There have been many incarnations of this tale of doomed love but I would hazard a guess that this one I saw at The Cambridge Arts Theatre last week, is by far the most ingenious.