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 Connecting professional and amateur theatre in Newbury, West Berkshire and beyond

Haymarket - Thérèse Raquin

23rd January to 7th February 2004.

From the Guardian.

Three stars
Emile Zola believed that naturalism would be as much the saviour of the theatre as of the novel. A century on, naturalism stands accused of killing the theatre. Fortunately, Julia Bardsley's adaptation of Zola's psychological novel about Thérèse Raquin and her lover Laurent - who believe that murdering Thérèse' husband will free them, but discover that it imprisons them instead in guilt - does not lend itself to naturalism.

The narration, taken directly from the novel, conjures a Paris of bourgeois respectability, sewers and morgues. But it is in the gaps between the words that the piece discovers the real horror of what has taken place and how it acts upon the protagonists. The whole thing could almost be played as a dumbshow, with flourishes of grand guignol.

Bardsley's adaptation is not new, but director Alasdair Ramsay, who has been doing good work in Basingstoke for six years, makes it seem fresh. His production drips with fetid damp, as if the drowned may actually be able to drag themselves from the river and stalk the guilty in their bedroom. There is the odd moment to rival anything in the movie Carrie. Although the production sometimes goes too far with the lighting and sound effects, it generates a thrilling sense of atmosphere and shows that it is the heart that betrays us as surely as the mind.

Martin Johns's design, which takes you into the heart of middle-class Parisian respectability and then the heart of darkness, helps a great deal, although there are occasions when audibility is a problem. As the guilty lovers, Phoebe Soteriades and Matthew Rixon are at their best in bed, with a revealing, fully clothed sex scene that brilliantly conveys the wild, dangerous passion that makes them lust for murder.


From The Times.

Pleading the passion of crime

Four stars
The murky content of Emile Zola’s first novel cost him his job, but the scandal of its reception was as nothing compared to the shock-horror that greeted his Thérèse Raquin two years later. This meticulous study of the psychological turmoil preceding and following a domestic murder appalled the critics — evidently a daintier breed in the 1860s — to whom it had to be explained that they were holding in their hands the first naturalistic novel.

Naturalism is a relative term, and only last week a colleague reported Edward Albee as saying that there was no such thing — “only relative stylisation”. But while this is doubtless true it is also the case that what happens to Zola’s adulterous lovers is presented with a superbly dispassionate precision, truly giving a sense that what we have here is, as the cliché would later call it, a slice of real life.

But naturalism is not enough. And while Thérèse’s sweet-natured but feeble husband Camille meets his watery death just before the interval, the play has not yet finished with the actor, Tom Bevan (excellent), who continues to appear — his face each time more lurid and misshapen — to haunt the guilty survivors.

This works brilliantly: internal remorse becomes external horror, and Alasdair Ramsay’s team creates a range of shivery moments and shocks for us. Jon Nicholls’s music is edgy; doors bang shut when least expected; Simon Hutchings isolates the narrators — all six actors share the narration — beneath strong top-lighting, or floods the rear of the stage with red (for the murder) or green (the morgue).

The play is subtitled Murder by the Seine, and Martin Johns’s set streams with water, issuing from gutters, dribbling from drains, confining the Raquin family within their dingy haberdashery store, where the highlight of the week is dominoes on Thursday.

We can feel for the trapped Thérèse of Phoebe Soteriades, speechless with a boredom that ends only when Matthew Rixon’s Laurent is brought into the family home. When at last the pair are alone Ramsay’s direction erupts with astonishing passion. The couple tear each other’s clothes off, roll over the floor, whip each other with skeins of wool, generating a sense of ungovernable ecstasy all across the stage — except for that one corner of it where Camille’s doting mother (Kate Doherty) continues to knit peacefully.

Overlapping scenes such as this emphasise the guilty secrecy that will culminate in the Grand Guignol climax of the murder. The acting throughout is subtle and intelligent, and Bevan’s long last crawl to watch his killers kill each other is mesmerising.


From The Newbury Weekly News.

Zola brings season to a gruesome end

Thérèse Raquin at the Haymarket Theatre, Basingstoke, from Friday, January 23 to Saturday February 7

Think of the shower scene in Hitchcock's Psycho, combined with the black humour of Blackadder, and you get the effect of this play.

Adapted by Julia Bardsley from Emile Zola's classic and directed by Alasdair Ramsey, it started with a loud, startling crash, followed by laughs from one or two in the audience, people who enjoy being frightened.

So anyone who revels in, for example, fairground tunnels of horror will love this play, which was full of Zola's long, descriptive and grisly narrative of the deteriorating state of ghoulish green bodies drowned in the river Seine, beside which it was set.

This last in the Haymarket's season of delightful plays with a French flavour, was set in 19th century Paris, and involved two lovers, Thérèse Raquin (Phoebe Soteriades) and Laurent (Matthew Rixon).

Watched by Thérèse, Laurent drowned her husband, Camille Raquin (Tom Bevan) in the Seine, but plagued by guilt, their relationship spiralled downwards, and ended in joint suicide.

Credit was due to both actors in a physically-demanding scene with the two lovers rolling about the stage in their underwear, which went very smoothly.

Zola's poetic lines, including 'Murder had cooled the fevers of their flesh', were beautifully delivered by Soteriades, in a fully-fleshed portrayal of Thérèse - a juicy role for any actress, but the high emotional angst is a bit draining.

A dark atmosphere, among smokey streets, was convincingly created, with water running across a slanted stage as the play opened in the rain, into a wide, front-of-stage channel, depicting the Seine.

Psychological effects, including scratches at the door and sticky walls, when Laurent ran to find Thérèse after the murder, brought to mind Tennessee Williams' plays and nightmares. Wedding day bells were cleverly made to sound like breaking, jagged glass.

The funniest scene was a white, blancmange-like wedding bed, trembling until it threatened to explode, eventually revealing the cause - Camille's ghost dangling underneath, shaking the whole thing.