Review: THERÈSE RAQUIN, Southwark Playhouse, 15 August 2016

By: Aug. 16, 2016
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In 1980, the BBC produced a sensational adaptation of Emile Zola's Thérèse Raquin, notable for its iconic morgue scene still remembered vividly by those who saw it and which, if repeated today, would break Twitter with the complaints that would ensue. It's always been a controversial and terrifying work, and Seb Harcombe's production at Southwark Playhouse carries that tradition forward - it's not for the fainthearted!

Thérèse is married (in name if not deed) to her cousin Camille, a manchild dominated by his mother who feeds his hypochondria in order to control him. When Camille brings struggling artist Laurent to their Paris apartment to paint his portrait, the bohemian outsider catches the eye of both his subject and his wife. Laurent is happy to flirt with Camille for his money, but wants Thérèse for the sex - and she wants him. This ménage à trois is inevitably doomed and unravels in an emotional conflagration that has lost none of its power in over 100 years.

With Olivia de Monceau's eerie lighting and grey, damp walls turning Madame Raquin's apartment into something of a morgue, the ensemble cast brilliantly portray some of French literature's most celebrated characters. As the lovers, Lily Knight and Matthew Hopkinson (looking a lot like a young Mark Rylance) circle each other, first full of lust and longing, later full of hate and horror. Knight has the pursed lips and pinched features of a woman who despises everything about her life but also a feline sexual charge, and Hopkinson slow-smiles the knowing look of a man to whom she is at first little more than a challenge for another notch on the bedpost, before becoming his obsession.

The rest of the cast are just as strong - and need to be to hold their own in a staging that creates a clammy claustrophobia shared by the audience as much as the characters. Alis Wyn Davies, though perhaps a little too young and beautiful for the part, is all passive aggression as Madame Raquin, and totally convincing in the climactic denouement.

Sam Goodchild hams it up mercilessly as the preposterous Camille, getting plenty of laughs tinged with plenty of tragedy as his closeted life is turned upside down. Freddie Greaves as the supercilious policeman friend of Madame Raquin also serves up his part with plenty of fromage, but is balanced by his niece, nicely played by Venice Van Someren as a girlish, but perceptive, ingenue.

Not for the first time, Southwark Playhouse has created an evening that perhaps only fringe theatre can offer. The play is entertaining and thought-provoking (it's a notorious classic for a reason) and the staging is intimate and visceral in its impact. The company, Secret/Heart, work with recent graduates and offer workshops to young people considering drama school - they, and us, could have few better examples of the power of theatre than this production.

Thérèse Raquin continues at Southwark Playhouse until 3 September

Watch the controversial morgue scene in the BBC adaptation below (about 10 minutes in) - not for the squeamish!


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