By Emile Zola, adapted by Nicholas Wright
Directed by Marianne Elliot
Venue: Lyttelton Theatre
Date: Tuesday 28th November 2006
This was a disappointment in a number of ways. Although it started off well, and the performances were excellent, the adaptation has problems, and the production lacked the thrill and suspense I associated with the first version we saw back at Chichester in 1990.
One of the main difficulties I had was with the “music”. I presume they were trying to depict the tension the couple were living under after the murder, and were using a repetitive, droning chord – I don’t know what instrument was being used, but for me it was an instrument of torture. I believe such sounds are actually used to cause people physical discomfort, and it certainly worked that way for me. I didn’t find it too disturbing until near the end, but by then it was giving me a headache and making it very hard to concentrate on the play. I even considered leaving, but reckoned I didn’t have much longer to endure – even so, I wouldn’t voluntarily go through that sort of abuse again.
One advantage of the Chichester production was the small space of the Minerva Theatre, which made the whole atmosphere much more claustrophobic. On the Lyttelton stage, a wide open space, it was much harder to create that sense, although the description of the flat as draughty was certainly believable. Somehow the couple’s secret passion didn’t come across so well, perhaps because Therese was played with very little show of emotion, so a lot of the action seemed a bit dreary at times. We certainly didn’t need such a long series of tableaux of the couple’s restlessness and divisions – once through the loop would have been more than enough. Frankly, by the time they chose to end it all, I was glad to see the back of them.
The set was pretty bleak. A large room, with windows high up, grey walls everywhere, a kitchen area off left, flanking the stairway down to the shop, doors to a walk-in wardrobe, the door to Madame Raquin’s room, then the cubby-hole bed for the son and niece. With only a large table and a few chairs to furnish it, this flat looked very empty. A screen was used to distance us from the action at the start and end of scenes, God knows why, as I already felt distanced enough from the action after a short time. The cast were superb, given the limitations of the adaptation. Camille was talkative and fussy, just the sort of husband you’d want to bump off if a looker like Ben Daniels came your way. I didn’t feel the sense of danger with his Laurent as I did first time round, but that’s this production for you. Therese was very withdrawn, though she did show her passionate side in the early scene with Laurent. Mainly, she seemed to hate rather than love, to want revenge for the way she’d been treated, and sex with Laurent was as good a way as any. Definitely a woman to avoid. It’s not clear in this version how often they’ve been having sex, possibly just the once? Maybe I was just missing bits – with such a large auditorium (more of a lecture hall than a theatre) it can be difficult to pick up all the dialogue.
The family friends – M Grivet and M Michaud – who turn up regularly to play dominoes, were great fun, especially Mark Hadfield as Grivet, all fussiness and self-concern. Madame Raquin managed a good line in self-concern as well, resolutely thinking of nobody but herself, and by extension, Camille, the whole play through. Actually, it’s a little amazing that Therese stayed as sane as she did.
I found Suzanne, Michaud’s niece, an odd character. The part seemed to be well enough played, although I probably missed more of her lines than anyone else’s, but I was never too clear on what her part in the drama was. Was she just there to show a more normal approach to relationships? Or were we meant to contrast her naivety and idealism with Therese’s experience and world-weariness? We may never know. And given that I didn’t enjoy this production enough, I’m unlikely to read the playtext to find out.
© 2006 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me