“Blood and nerves…blood and nerves”
Rather oddly, I’ve already seen the first half of Craig Adams and Nona Shepphard’s powerful new musical Thérèse Raquin. It was featured as part of the Vibrant play readings festival in 2012 with the promise that the rest of the show would follow swiftly and sure enough, the full production has now materialised in the intimacy of this West London venue (supplemented once again with a drinking venue beneath).
Musically, it is a beautifully rich and pleasingly intricate piece. Adams’ score has near-operatic quality, a denseness of recitative that conjures up worlds of feeling more effectively than traditional song-writing could ever do. It can be challenging at times, especially on first listen, but there’s something exciting about the scope of ambition here, a determination to tread a singular path that bodes well for British musical theatre writing.
Emotional complexity comes too from Émile Zola’s original story, adapted here by Shepphard, as unhappily married Thérèse (an ever-excellent Julie Atherton) bemoans the feebleness of husband Camille (Jeremy Legat) but rejoices in the arrival of handsome Laurent (a strapping Ben Lewis), with whom a passionate affair strikes up. And that is just half the story, although as events unfold, the story does begin to lose some of its heart.
The performance level is sensational though – Shepphard’s direction keeps a sinuous quality which focuses the ensemble strength of the production and James Simpson’s musical direction works well in the space, building effectively in intensity but never to overwhelming levels. Far more exciting than any of the bigger budget new musicals in town, the Finborough is definitely the place to go to see the future for British musicals.