“I am yours. Do what you want with me”
It is clearly the moment for Thérèse Raquin– a stage adaptation in Bath (and touring to Malvern and Cambridge), the Finborough’s musical version transferring to the Park Theatre, and a film of the story also hitting our cinemas recently. Émile Zola’s 1867 novel heralded a new world of naturalism in literature in its focus on mood rather than character and has remained an enduring classic, hence this confluence of versions now and a cheeky trip to the penultimate show of the run at the gorgeous Theatre Royal Bath.
Reflecting Zola’s intent, Jonathan Munby’s direction is highly theatrical and brings a powerful lyricism to the stage, bringing in Ann Yee to provide a fluid movement style that is near-balletic and which captures the yearning spirit perfectly – in a world where so much is unsaid, body language becomes ever more eloquent. And Helen Edmundson’s version emphasises Thérèse’s elemental connection to the water and the fevered eroticism that takes her over, unutterably disrupting her world as sex, murder and self-destruction come a-knocking to liven up her dull life forcibly married to her cousin in the Parisian backstreets.
As a study in naturalism, Pippa Nixon is outstanding as Thérèse. A woman without a voice, initially at least, she’s buffeted from pillar to post by the people in her life but also by the movement of the company, roughly dressing her for her next scene, ensuring she’s obediently where she needs to be. And with her aching stares out through the stage, she speaks volumes. But even when she’s been released from emotional torpor by the rugged masculinity of Kieran Bew’s Laurent, it is clear that the damage has been done, there’s an emotional inarticulacy that tragically can never be fixed.
As the men in her life, Bew is a smouldering delight, driven by a passionate ardour which enables him to seduce Mme Raquin’s entire circle and Hugh Skinner’s comic Camille is an inspired choice, a sexless mummy’s boy with a hugely overinflated sense of self-worth. Desmond Barritt’s lascivious Michaud is also well-played, his stealing of a cheeky kiss from Thérèse a brilliant moment and it is always a pleasure to see Alison Steadman, an overprotective but kindly maternal figure, hollowed out by the devastating effects of a stroke and then fuelled by rage as the penny drops – she’s totally convincing throughout.
With just a short run here and a mini-tour to follow, it is well worth the effort trying to get to see this if you can.