CD Review: Thérèse Raquin (2014 Original London Cast)

“You are not still, you are not still Thérèse”

There are times when listening to cast recordings can sometimes feel like a chore, and others when they are a glorious reminder of shows gone by. For me, hearing the utterly gorgeous waterfall of voices on ‘You Are Not Still Thérèse’ from Craig Adams’ Thérèse Raquin is very much in the latter category, one of those moments of musical theatre perfection that work as music, as drama, as theatre, as pure art.
Adams and Nona Shepphard’s adaptation of Zola’s novel played at the Finborough in 2014 and then transferred to the larger Park in one of those really sensible moments theatreland sometimes has. Musically complex and dramatically interesting as a radical interpretation of the book, it delved deep into Thérèse’s psychology and aided by a stunning performance from Julie Atherton, worked beautifully.

The score stands up well on disc, its through-sung narrative clear as a bell and really assisted by the introduction of a sonorous Greek chorus of Claire Greenway, Ellie Kirk and Lucy O’Byrne who provide commentary and alternative takes on the tragic events. Atherton connects viscerally with illicit love Laurent, a virile Greg Barnett and contemptuously with husband Jeremy Legat’s Camille to bring real fire to their love triangle and its consequences, the climactic ‘If I Had Known’ is just devastatingly good.
But it’s the combination of them with the complex choral work of the company that really makes this an extraordinary musical, rich and evocative in a way that is all too rarely seen in new musicals, certainly on larger stages, and so it’s a real boon to have this recording to remember the show by and hopefully spearhead a fine set of revivals to come.

Re-review: Thérèse Raquin, Park Theatre

“They are drawn by the inescapable promptings of their flesh!”

A well-deserved transfer for this hit Finborough musical although coming a few months after that original run, the production has had to be recast a bit along with being reconceived for the larger space of the Park Theatre. On a personal note, whilst I loved being able to listen to the pleasingly textured score once again, it was also interesting to come back to the show with a much greater knowledge of the story, having recently seen both a play and a film of Thérèse Raquin, thus enabling me to compare and contrast adaptations.

This version hedges its bets from the beginning by describing itself as a “radical adaptation” by Nona Shepphard but what is interesting is that Shepphard is the only one who tries to replicate something of Thérèse’s interior life, which is so richly portrayed in the novel, by using a chorus of three river women. It works both dramatically and musically, creating additional layers to the vocals and these hints of Greek tragedy with its chorus passing commentary is used effectively elsewhere, most notably in reporting the news of Camille’s tragic ‘accident’.

Continue reading “Re-review: Thérèse Raquin, Park Theatre”

Review: Thérèse Raquin, Finborough

“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. Continue reading “Review: Thérèse Raquin, Finborough”

Review: Legacy Falls, New Players

“Call it fate or call it karma, I was made for daytime drama”

Legacy Falls is a new musical from James Burn, with assistance on the book from Ian Poitier who also doubles as director and choreographer. It is a tongue-in-cheek look at the on-screen and off-screen antics at an American daytime soap opera, Legacy Falls, which is suffering from falling ratings and so when a new producer is brought in to shake things up, the bitchiness and back-stabbing is ramped up as the actors begin to question their security and their happiness in life, especially Edward the long-suffering leading man with a big secret.

It starts off brilliantly with the great title track which is lyrically very sharp and nicely tuneful, enhanced by a witty video of the opening credits for the show which nails the windswept posing which makes them so ridiculously comical! When pursuing the soap side of things, this show is really very good and laugh-out-funny on a number of occasions. It mixes up the Acorn Antiques-style parody of comically bad soap acting with missed cues and overacting with the sheer ridiculousness of US daytime soap operas with their classic catfights, smell-the-fart acting, rapidly ageing child characters and their propensity for outrageously complex personal relationships. It also borrows the device of portraying the actors playing the characters to show the neuroses of this group of actors who see their steady paycheck being threatened. The best songs are here, with witty group numbers (I particularly liked the female trio on Somebody’s Gonna Get Killed and the duo on Normal People) and powerhouse solos like Larger Than Life all having huge amounts of fun and genuine comedy that make it a delight to watch. Tara Hugo’s huge voice makes her performance as Stephanie the leading lady one of the highlights of the show but she is well matched by Joanne Heywood’s conniving Madison and Aimie Atkinson’s incredibly ditzy Brandy.

It is perhaps slightly less successful at mining its more serious storyline of its leading man struggling to deal with the stagnation of playing the same role for 30 years, all the while concealing his homosexuality. By comparison, these sections are relatively flat, too ballad heavy and don’t really build the requisite emotional engagement that is needed to stop you from wishing we were back in the comedy sections. Mark Inscoe does well with the material but I felt his perma-tanned Edward needed to be a stronger-drawn, more dramatic character in order to really capture the attention as a leading man and build up more passion and connection with the most handsome Tim Oxbrow as Daniel, the man who leads his journey out of the closet. And to be honest, there’s no new insight or believability in the way this gay storyline is played out which comes across as really quite dated. 

It is a well-drilled company throughout though with no weak links: Rosalind Blessed is great fun as Frankie the producer brought in to improve the ratings; Davis Brooks’ dim and frequently shirtless hunk Ridge has excellent comic timing and from the front row, Ezra Axelrod caught my eye in a distractingly tight pair of trousers. Georgia Lowe’s set uses the same idea utilised in the NT’s Hamlet of movable panels to create a range of locations quickly quite effectively: I did think that it took too long to get them into place though, the whole show could be a lot tighter by speeding up these transitions, getting people to come onstage as others are leaving which would give more of a feel of a bustling tv studio. And I’m not sure the finale needed the simplistic choreography which looked a bit awkward and ultimately adds little to the situation.

Michael Bradley’s five man band played brightly if slightly overpoweringly at times, but overall the feeling was one of great confidence on all sides which bodes well for the run. Musically, Burn shows talent in writing a raft of interesting songs here and with his ear for a witty lyric, the upbeat numbers are just a delight. It is a tad solo-ballad-heavy for me and I longed for a little more vocal complexity with group numbers and harmonies but there is enough here to impress, not least in the effort that it must take to a get a new musical by a little-known writer produced in London and there are plenty of laughs in here to make this an enjoyable show.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Programme cost: £2.50 (and it’s quite funny, I loved the mock bios for the actors in the show)
Booking until 20th November