Review: Thérèse Raquin, National Theatre

Thérèse Raquin was originally a novel by Emile Zola but he adapted it into a play himself, though the version that is being put on here by Marianne Elliott at the National Theatre is one by Nicholas Wright, who worked absolute wonders translating Philip Pullman’s epic His Dark Materials trilogy into one of the best theatrical experiences of my life. The story follows the doomed antics of a couple embroiled in an adulterous affair and the devastating consequences of not being able to live with what they’ve done.

Maybe it was a consequence of not knowing the novel rather than it being a weakness of the play, but I didn’t like the fact that we entered the story at the mid-point, so that the love triangle had already mostly played out with Thérèse already tumbled for Laurent and Grivet cuckolded. I wanted to see more of this build-up to get a better sense of the characters and their motivations: as it was, I didn’t really believe in the erotic drive between the lovers, nor saw the side to the husband that forced such a dark decision as the one they carried out. Having to accept all this as a fait accompli and making the focus of the play the moral reaction to their dastardly deed felt slightly skewiff to me and this I didn’t much care for it, or them.

Patrick Kennedy as the husband was probably too good in this respect and though I quite liked Ben Daniels’ smooth Laurent, I never warmed to Charlotte Emmerson’s portrayal of Thérèse or understood why I should care about her dilemma. I can see the story working better on the page as too much of the story felt like it was about what was going on inside their heads. Ironically, Judy Parfitt’s bitter stroke-ridden mother-in-law was my favourite acting performance of the night with barely saying a word in the second half.

Hildegard Bechtler’s set does well to try and draw in the large stage into a workable space for two people to disintegrate in, the dark flat with its strategically-placed walls well lit by Neil Austin, though I wasn’t keen on the dramatic flourish at one point which seemed to serve little purpose. Ultimately I was disappointed, not unappreciative of the talent on display, but more with a play that seems weak and unworthy of the resources put into it here.

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