Émile Zola’s Thérèse Raquin may not be the most obvious choice for musical treatment, but in Nona Shepphard’s concise adaptation the plot is stripped to its basic components allowing music to take the fore.
This is a dark and sombre chamber production, the set a claustrophobic construction of nooks and crannies from which the ensemble sing and creep in the shadows. An intense and erotic thriller, the plot centres on the apathetic titular Thérèse living with her overbearing aunt Madame Raquin and her petulant, sickly cousin Camille who she marries. Soon she begins a passionate affair with Camille’s friend Laurent and together they plot to murder Camille. After the event, however, the couple are racked with guilt and haunted by visions of the dead, causing their relationship to collapse.
There are some light touches of humour, but for the most part this is a thoroughly gripping drama. No amount of emphatic lyric repetition can enforce the necessary sense of danger between the two lovers, though there is great sexual tension between Julie Atherton’s melancholic Thérèse and Ben Lewis’ strapping, animalistc Laurent. The second act in particular is a haunting depiction of guilt, Jeremy Legat’s Camille appearing zombie-like behind the set and Tara Hugo’s immobile Madame Raquin delighting in the tragic denouement with just a flicker of her eyes.
It’s a bare bones plot that’s heightened immeasurably by the new score from Craig Adams. Accompanying the ensemble solely on piano, the score is seemingly inspired by Schubert’s lied with its hypnotically repetitive arpeggios that constantly drive like the turning of a screw. Folky, melismatic vocal lines merge into dissonant harmonies and lines overlap in great dramatic choruses. The singing is excellent, especially from the three chorus girls singing the inner monologues of the often mute Thérèse. That said, it is difficult for such strong voices to blend in such a small space without microphones.
In short, Thérèse Raquin is a disturbing and richly atmospheric production, with a score that is to die for.
Watch: Thérèse Raquin runs at the Finborough Theatre until 19th April.