Where: Newcastle upon Tyne
22 June 2005 WOS Rating: Reader Reviews: View and add to our user reviews Peter Flannery’s latest full-length play for the theatre, his first for 17 years, deals with a particularly nasty crime and its haunting after-effects, with black humour surfacing from time to time amid the violence and sexual obsession. The story, taken from Emile Zola’s Therese Raquin, is simplicity itself. Therese comes to live with her aunt, a shopkeeper whose over-protected son, Camille, marries Therese. She then begins a passionate affair with Camille’s only friend, Laurent, and, when that is thwarted by circumstances (not by the intrusion of the blindly complaisant husband), the lovers murder Camille, only to be destroyed by the consequences.
The strength of Flannery’s version is that it has the pacing and multiple viewpoints more typical of a novel. Initially Old Michaud (
Colin MacLachlan), the shrewd, knowledgeable, but critically unobservant, ex-police inspector, is an engaging narrator, but the audience view is equally shaped by the other characters: even the ghost of Camille has the chance to tell us how things are for him. These narratives compress time, too. Each self-obsessed act of instant gratification hastens on to the next and retribution, which takes many forms, is not slow to follow.
What is arguably less successful about the adaptation is
Peter Flannery’s claim that this is “a play set on the quayside of Newcastle”. The Geordie vernacular works well, but habits as well as names remain decidedly French: from the conspicuous consumption of champagne to the atmosphere of the chilling “Hell is other people” scenes where Therese and Laurent are each other’s punishment. In fairness, the play text itself broods poetically and effectively on the river and the city without naming names.
Informed by Michaud’s friendly confidences, the audience savours a bleak dramatic irony that gradually freezes into horror.
Anny Tobin’s Mrs Raquin combines dominant matriarch and comically doting mother before crumbling to immobility. Craig Conway as Camille convinces us that he is more than the pathetically inept mother’s boy even as we laugh at the caricature. Jill Halfpenny’s Therese gains the power of her outbursts from the sense of hard-won self-restraint that precedes them. Though Ben Porter as Laurent manages the juggling act less well, conveying his moral emptiness but not his charm, at least this emphasises the hapless self-deception of Camille and his mother, surely the only people who could believe in him.
With an open acting area stretching back to the theatre walls
Maggie Norris’s fluent and well-judged production is backed up by designer Simon Daw’s flexible use of space and gains much in atmosphere from Katherine Gotts’ evocative music and Philip Gladwell’s precise and often menacing lighting.
- Ron Simpson
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