Therese Raquin


Therese Raquin

Dirty Pretty Theatre & Critical Stages

QUT Gardens Theatre

June 21 – 22 2017


Reviewed by Xanthe Coward


Emile Zola’s classic gothic love/mystery/thriller/murder story is not for the faint hearted.

Dirty Pretty Theatre’s Gary Abrahams (Adaptation & Direction) has crafted a deliciously chilling version of Therese Raquin for contemporary audiences. It’s a pity the Brisbane season was so short, and comparatively few knew it was on. Or else, there is SO much on – I had to see the matinee to be able to see this one at all. QUT’s Gardens Theatre suffers from a quiet presence on the edge of the inner city campus and the Botanic Gardens. Nothing outside the venue indicates that within its humble walls something exciting may be happening, and unless you’re interested or invested in how the acting students are going, I’d suggest this production is the most exciting programming we’ve seen at the venue for a little while.

Dirty Pretty Theatre is well known in Melbourne, but here not so much. After a debut season in 2014, the company retained for a national tour of Therese Raquin, Marta Kaczmarek as the overbearing Madame Raquin. Hers is a superb performance: she’s stifling, her adoration for her son, Camille, sickening, and her eyes-wide-open immobile state by the end, confronting and chilling.

Kaczmarek is joined on stage for this touring production by Jessica Clarke, James O’Connell, Andre Jewson, Emily Milledge and David Ross Paterson.

Clarke’s Therese Raquin dives deeply into her duality, reeling between the light and the dark, desperately loving and loathing Laurent (James O’Connell) and herself for their deplorable actions. She gives little away early on and behind carefully composed features, passion seethes until it manifests in her communication with her lover. O’Connell plays dangerously along the edge of taking this manipulative and conniving character too far, and it’s to his credit that he manages with aplomb, the extraordinary demands of this role without falling into classic villain territory. We believe him and we fear him. The couple’s illicit lovemaking is effectively choreographed, timed well with blackouts during which some of the older matinee audience members gasp in mock horror and laugh a little uncomfortably, whispering, “Well!” and, “Oh my!”. For some reason (perhaps it happens too fast) the lovers’ final moments don’t have us on the edge of our seats, or holding back tears, but Kaczmarek’s haunted eyes do, and we leave the theatre horrified and satisfied.

Michaud (David Ross Paterson) is refreshingly less a shrewd detective than we might expect, with just a hint of suspicion in both his carriage and vocal inflection; it’s a beautiful, natural reading of this “minor” role delivered with nuance and intelligently measured arrogance. His actions are the machinations of the story; his advice to Madame Raquin to allow Therese to wed again, forces into motion the chain of events that lead to a dismal end for all.

Emily Milledge offers light comedy in her naivety, and because we feel as if we’ve gotten to know her and adore her; unlike the simpering thing we meet in the novel, in this adaptation she is quite likeable, and even while we see it coming, we’re genuinely dismayed to see her acquiesce to a mismatch with Grivet (Mark Wilson). She comes across as a sweet, birdlike creature, needing to fly and discover the world for herself, and instead becomes trapped, given the lens of her husband through which to view a much smaller world. This is perfectly encapsulated by one poignant moment, when she must fetch her husband’s umbrella for him.

In his physicality and sneering demeanour, Wilson’s training with Phillipe Gaulier no doubt helped to shape this ghastly character, a typical pompous fop, providing much of the necessary comic relief in that grimacing we-hope-we-never-meet-a-man-like-that way. Likewise, Camille (Andre Jewson) is a despicable, spoilt (and sickly) thing. We are appalled and later, terrified by his presence. Jewson, having also taken much from time spent training with Gaulier, nails Camille’s physicality and mannerisms.

Chloe Greaves puts each actor into character clothes that speak volumes about who they are without them having to say a word. The small amount of colour she incorporates offers us false confidence; we think there is hope but actually, no one gets to fulfil their potential, or find their perfect partner in life, or achieve their dreams. It’s all very maudlin, and at times we wish the girls could just escape the confines of their crinoline, however; lovely moments of lightness come from Milledge, the weekly card game, and the lovers’ early energy and banter before something bad happens.


Jacob Battista’s detailed realistic set creates a claustrophobic atmosphere, and without smelling the damp of the tiny Parisienne apartment, those of us who need little prompting to do so, smell it anyway. An angled glass ceiling gives the impression that escape is so near, yet so far away, and the future is indeed, as blurred and as bleak as the grimy windows would have it appear. The transition (and transformation) of the bedroom to the waterway is old-school, cleverly utilising the bed, and with a great deal more smoke, the effect of gliding across the surface of the water would be magical. Remember the first time you saw the Phantom of the Opera take Christine down into the belly of the opera house and across the lake in a gondola? With a little imagination, that’s the effect here; it’s well executed without the mechanical magic. A melancholy lighting design by Katie Sfetkidis, and haunting original piano compositions by Christopher de Groot, add to the deep sense of unease we feel throughout the production.

For 2 hours and 15 minutes, we don’t notice time passing, despite the first act’s languid start. An intelligent adaptation, insightful and detailed direction, and thrilling performances make this production one of the most compelling we’ve seen this year.


Production pics by Lachlan Wood. Trailer and some pics feature original cast.



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