A dark tale revealed
By Leeor Adar
The audience’s lust for work exposing the underbelly of human desire and vengeance never ceases, and gothic masterpieces always manage to spook and lure audiences centuries after their first public entrance. A great practitioner of literary naturalism, Émile Zola’s Thérèse Raquin finds itself dealt a supernatural twist in the hands of director and adaptor Gary Abrahams for theatre company A Dirty Pretty Theatre. Abrahams has not disposed of the elegance of late 1800s Paris, as his set designer Jacob Battista and costume designer Chloe Greaves journey back in time with him.
Thérèse Raquin follows the tragedy of a small family moving to Paris for a new start to invigorate the sickly Camille (Andre Jewson). Trapped under the weight of wifely servitude is the beautiful Thérèse (Jessica Clarke), oscillating between wistful gazing and the swift practiced movements of someone wanting to shatter her proverbial glass cage. The delightful little family is threatened by vagabond artist, Laurent (James O’Connell), whose presence gleefully brutalises the now excitable Camille and stirs up the most carnal of longings in Thérèse – both of whom are desperately seeking something that helps them forget themselves. The lust overcoming the characters climaxes in a brutal killing: cue the total disintegration of the survivors’ sense of sanity in a manner that Shakespeare himself would admire.
In this production, projection was a difficulty for some of the actors, particularly Clarke whose voice strained into hoarseness, but this could be due to the total submersion into a desperate Thérèse. Clarke’s performance certainly conveyed the desperation of her character potently, and O’Connell’s Laurent was suitably dangerous. Overall, the performances throughout were strong: notably Suzanne as played by Emily Milledge had the captivating ability to take us far away from the gloom of the room in her girlish rants about a phantom lover. Keeping the pace of the production was the composition and music of Christopher De Groot, whose score injected a sense of melancholy to the production.
Tragically, some very dramatic moments were thrown askew on the night I attended by the curtain falling upon a poorly-placed table and a flower crown that was swept about underneath the gowns of the actresses. The audience’s occasional laughter was perhaps a welcome distraction from the gloom of the tale before us – but at times, in Zola’s land of naturalism, such misadventures cannot be helped.
Abrahams’ production ultimately aimed for high drama, but unfortunately came across as pure melodrama with too many distractions. I admittedly enjoyed the gothic horror elements that snuck up on us, but feel these could easily have been dispensed with for the subtlety Zola’s text warranted.
This gothic drama was performed at the beautiful National Theatre in St Kilda from 31 May – 1 June.
Image by Sarah Walker