Therese Raquin

Therese Raquin

Zen Zen Zo

The Old Museum

23rd November – 8th December 2012


Reviewed by Xanthe Coward


“The piece has emerged in rehearsals to be as fast flowing as the River Seine – featuring as an eighth character in the story – with the actors seeking to reveal the deeper essence of actions and emotions in their words and movements; it is a high-energy, vivid piece of impressionist story-telling – it is a bizarrely entertaining mix of Gothic horror tale and psychological thriller.” Director, Helen Howard.

Therese Raquin

“I have simply done on two living bodies the kind of analysis that surgeons do on dead bodies.” Emile Zola.

Therese Raquin is Emile Zola’s dark novel (and original stage adaptation, which closed after just nine performances in 1873), a study of temperaments and the physical manifestations of guilt, which gets the full physical and emotional Zen Zen Zo treatment, courtesy of a clear vision and a faithful adaptation of the classic text from first-time director, Helen Howard and partner in business and in life, Michael Futcher. It’s stylised, very staged and the perfect realisation of a nightmare that, in less capable hands (or – hate to say it – with a whole lot more money splashed at it), may not translate to the stage quite as clearly…or as terrifyingly. For what’s a Zen Zen Zo show in The Old Museum if not terrifying?

In the ideal gothic space of Studio 3 (well, except perhaps for its acoustics but then we know The Lyric has its problems too), Howard has carefully considered the abject horror of the self-realisation that follows an act of innate evil, which might surface when somebody becomes suddenly desperate enough…somebody like Laurent, Therese Raquin’s lover, who murders her cloying and sickly husband, Camille, so that he and Therese can be together forever. But forever’s a long time when you’re wracked with guilt and the fear of ghosts.


Zen Zen Zo is renowned worldwide for their physical theatre training and theatrical productions that continue to push boundaries and challenge artists as much as audiences. The unique style is immediately recognisable in a suitably appropriated Butoh-like silent scream, each performer turning slowly on the spot. Maniacal dolls in slow motion, which step out of the vague memory of a horror film seen on the sly during primary school years at a friend’s sleepover; you’re frozen in time and space, watching, unable to look away, and at the same time, eyes fixed. Isn’t it funny, what a live performance will lead you (or lead you back) to? The motif is repeated in fast-forward – whirling dervishes – but this one’s a momentary impression and the story twists on to reveal the truth of a conspiratorial murder and the reality of a grieving, mute Madame Raquin in a most disturbing image; the manipulation by Laurent of his reluctant mother-in-law. She is his pseudocoma puppet. “Notice how his mouth never moves! Almost…” We are inside her home and shop, with most of its doors and stairs imagined (Design Josh McIntosh).


Lizzie Ballinger is in her element as the rakish Therese. She perfectly embodies the silent, lacklustre girl who is transformed by passion into a ravishing, self-confident woman, willing to go along with – almost – anything to marry the man she truly loves. When their bodies are visibly wracked with the guilt of their evil deed, it’s Therese I feel for. She didn’t want her husband dead! She just wanted a new one!  But her murdering lover, Laurent (Luke Townson), suddenly seems callous and manipulative. Be careful what you wish for? Indeed.


Julien Faddoul, as Camille, plays both the living and the dead with equal amounts of smarmy self-confidence and shiver factor. I have to admit, I imagined he might float through the audience and give us a fright from behind but I feel this is a trick Zen Zen Zo doesn’t need; the ambience and action are enough already. Phil Slade’s chilling soundscape and Jason Glenwright’s eerie lights lend so much to this production that no tricks are needed outside of these elements.


Louise Brehmer is Madame Raquin, cruel and (hello karma) struck silent by a stroke, keeping the awful truth about her son’s death with her to her grave. Her command of voice and body could easily steal the limelight and yet she is gracious, allowing Ballinger and Townson to shine; as much as it’s an ensemble piece, it’s their show. Likewise, Eugene Gilfedder is a generous Michaud, the Inspector, who sets the scene with Zola’s own flowing words and narrates the story to bring our attention time and time again, back to the sorry state of the guilty party. Luisa Prosser is hilarious as the naive Suzanne; her facial expressions and vocal interjections priceless. These are the lighter moments that we need, along with the repetitive  orgy …game of dominoes.


For some reason, this adaptation loses its momentum after the interval and although I’m the first to support having an old-fashioned intermission, during which one stretches one’s legs and gets oneself a civilised drink at the bar, here is a new show that could do without one. My only quibble is not actually about interval v no interval at all though, but about the way we drifted towards the end, rather than being taken on a fast, furious ride through the second act with its tumultuous, violent denouement, so shocking, no horrifying in the book.


Therese Raquin closes on Saturday. If you can get to it, do; this is the next phase of the new-look Zen Zen Zo. As difficult as it is to put insanity, murder and sex on a stage, Howard’s directorial debut is impressive and Therese Raquin is the type of heritage-turned-contemporary theatre that I’d like to see more of. Oh, and teachers? I’ve recently told some of you in person. I’ll say it again here. It’s well and truly time to bring back your students to Zen Zen Zo.




1001 NIGHTS (18th July – 28th July)


MEDEA – The River Runs Backwards (19th August – 7th September)


MACBETH – A Porter’s Tale (Regional Tour in primary schools)


MARCUS AND THE MANIC MUSIC MAKERS (Regional Tour in primary schools)


RESTLESS PROJECT (29th & 30th March)


END-OF-YEAR CELEBRATION (30th November in Montville)





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