EMILE Zola’s 1868 novel Therese Raquin scandalised readers at the time, with its depiction of adultery and murder. Now Fiona Ross has adapted the story, and directs her own version with performing arts students from AUB, setting the action in immediately post-war Paris, and in the land of the wicked dead.
Played without an interval, Therese is the story of the orphaned girl sent to be brought up by her aunt, living in claustrophobic ennui with the doting woman and her sickly son. Therese hangs on by a thread of inevitability until, one night, a young man comes to the house for the weekly game of dominos and dance. Once she sees Laurent, she realises that her cousin-husband is NOT all that life has to offer. And the scene is set for passionate betrayal, dangerous plotting and murder.
The performance begins with the 11-strong cast on stage, slowly repeating actions and staring out into the abyss – the dead in hell, forced to re-live their sins on earth. Fiona Ross was inspired by accounts of the aftermath of the occupation of France, when collaborators, especially women, were marched through the streets and humiliated by having to recount their betrayals.
Zola’s viscerally powerful original is brilliantly distilled in this adaptation, as the power and excitement of lust is inescapably followed by a realisation of change and the corrosive insistence of memory that goes on, and on, and on.
The success of the production depends on intense central performances – from Isaac Redgrave as the venal and manipulative Laurent, Joseph Chase as the louche, lazy and hypochondriac Camille, Brooke Monet, newly awakened in the title role, and Maja Lonnroth as the kind and emotionally dependent aunt/mother. The tightly choreographed ensemble is broken to reveal individual characters during the proceedings, and the versatile sets and and perfectly selected music add to the hypnotic atmosphere of the peice.
It’s edge-of-your-seat stuff, in a production that pulls its audience into the action and lays bare the human condition – another example of the depth of skills and talent currently attracted to AUB, where the students rise to every challenge thrown at them.