Thérèse Raquin, a new musical with book, lyrics and direction from Nona Shepphard and music by Craig Adams, has just opened at the Finborough Theatre. It’s bold, courageous even, with feet firmly planted on adventurous ground: an exciting evening of musical theatre with operatic ambitions.
Billed as a radical adaptation (you have been warned) by Shepphard it takes inspiration from Émile Zola’s tale of adultery and murder. The characters have a flatness that calls to mind myths or fairy tales – the conviction of Shepphard’s text makes them captivating. And Adams’ piano score is not easy listening, reminiscent of Philip Glass with its choral emphasis, rounds and repetition.
None of this makes it easy for the cast. But even performances that could be finessed win admiration for their bravura – and many of them are fantastic. The excellent Julie Atherton takes the title role, notable for her weighted silence long into the first act. Jeremy Legat has a trickier job as her sickly husband Camille. Legat sounds great but I am not sure about trying to inject some humour into the part. Ben Lewis plays the lover Laurent, complementing his tall, dark and handsome qualifications with a voice that’ll knock your socks off. Thérèse is accompanied by a chorus, with Matt Wilman, who also doubles as an oarsman, standing out. Shepphard puts Madame Raquin at the centre of the show and Tara Hugo gives a startling performance in the role, especially as the elderly lady succumbs to illness.
Shepphard also deserves credit for her directing skills, creating some great theatrical moments that enforce the imagery in her text. The recurring domino evenings, part of why Thérèse feels she is “buried alive” with her mother-in-law and feeble husband, are full of detail. The scene in a morgue, where Laurent tries to face his murderous actions, and a wedding night, with a ghostly reappearance from Camille, are superb.
Ultimately, to its credit, Thérèse Raquin is too big for the Finborough. This tiny venue is often top of my list for a visit, and what it achieves is remarkable, but the potential of this show seems too much. Despite the skillful set design from Laura Cordery, the production, especially the music, deserves a bigger stage. Naïve, perhaps, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if some far-sighted producer took a risk on something as different as this? Here’s hoping.
Until 19 April 2014
Photo by Darren Bell
Written 2 April 2014 for The London Magazine