Thursday, 7 August 2014

Thérèse Racquin - Review

Park Theatre, London


By Émile Zola
Adaptation, book and lyrics by Nona Shepphard
Music by Craig Adams
Directed by Nona Shepphard

Greg Barnett and Julie Atherton

Thérèse Racquin, the new musical that wowed the Finborough earlier this year, makes a short journey across West London to be staged at the larger, though still intimate, Park 200 auditorium. French classics clearly prove a rich seam for composers. Where 30 years ago Boublil and Schönberg tackled Hugo's Les Miserables, so now do composer Craig Adams and writer Nona Shepphard take on Émile Zola's classic study on desire, guilt and most importantly the corrosive effect of these two emotions upon the human condition.

The story may be more than a hundred years old but it's a strong morality fable that responds well to Shepphard's "radical" adaptation and Adam's jarring melodies. This is no easy show to watch. The themes of lust, betrayal and hauntings, as well as some distinct nods to Zola's theatrical naturalism and all strung around a murderously macabre ménage á trois, demand an adult audience.

The performers are a treat. Who better than Jeremy Legat to play the cuckolded Camille, Therese's husband, with such sensitivity and marked understatement? Usurping his place in the marital bed, Greg Barnett plays the louche Laurent, Camille's childhood friend. Of swarthy peasant stock, muscular and vital, he is the alpha-male that Thérèse burns and yearns for. Proving a decaying and ultimately suspicious force within the home, Camille's mother Mme. Racquin is a cracking performance from the ever accomplished and occasionally menacing Tara Hugo.

The success of this show however, ultimately rests upon the slender and adulterous (though only in character, of course) shoulders of Julie Atherton as Thérèse. On stage for virtually the entire show, Atherton is silent for the first fourty-five minutes, before releasing her pent up desire for Laurent in the passionate I Breathe You In, sung as the two lovers consummate their lust. It is not so long since Atherton played Emily Tallentire in Leicester Curve's The Hired Man - she evidently plays the cheating wife well. In the final act, her contribution to the duet If I Had Known are spine tingling.

Some of the songs are inspirational. Thursday Night, sung by the company as they enjoy the weekly game of dominoes that old Mme Raquin hosts, suggested just a twinkle of Guys and Dolls' The Oldest Established, whilst Sweet Perfume Of Violets is possibly one of the most beautifully horrific songs in the canon, with Adams penning a truly haunting melody.

One criticism: Sat stage right of the Park's shallow thrust one can miss occasional visual moments. The Park is a very different space to the Finborough and it's not too late for Shepphard to tweak her blocking.

An imaginative use of a female trio as chorus adds to the harmonic delight of the production, whilst James Simpson directs a fine sound from the (mainly) string quintet. With Thérèse Raquin Shepphard and Adams have created invigorating and exciting new musical theatre. The show represents a cutting edge of the genre at its very best and brilliantly performed.

Runs until August 24th 2014

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