Performed in the Unicorn Theatre 24 - 27 March 2010
by Leslie Sands
When Émile Zola's novel Thérèse Raquin first appeared in 1867, its frank depiction of sexual desire caused a real stir. In his preface, Zola explained how he wished to study temperament rather than character, based on the ancient idea of the four ‘humours’. Thus, on this scheme, Thérèse is choleric and passionate, trapped in a loveless marriage to her phlegmatic but dull husband Camille; her lover, Laurent, is sanguine and sensitive, driven by his overwhelming lust for Thérèse – and by Thérèse herself – to murder his best friend Camille. Presiding over them all is the melancholic and (mostly) well-meaning Madame Raquin, the matriarch of this dysfunctional clan. Part of the pleasure of the novel is seeing how these various temperaments play out in a complicated web of deceit, guilt and revenge.
Leslie Sands’s 1985 adaptation of Thérèse Raquin is a curious mix of classical tragedy and sentimental farce, which is mournful and melodramatic by turn. However, these different registers never really gel, and the play lacks the eroticism of Zola’s original. In this sumptuously designed production by Abingdon Drama Club, the fine ensemble cast did their best to cope. The scenes of love and hate between Thérèse (Andrea Mardon) and Laurent (Diarmaid Browne) were played out into the middle distance, in the spirit of Macbeth: ‘We killed love’, murmurs Thérèse. The comic scenes between Michaud (Nigel Tait) and Grivet (Gerard Ward) were nicely knockabout, and reminiscent of Waiting for Godot. ‘There’s no such thing as unhappiness’, Michaud muses. ‘When we think we’re happy, it’s only that we’re
a little less unhappy than usual’. And the still centre at the heart of it all, Madame Raquin, is a magnificent Mother Courage figure who, as portrayed by Jill Calvert, moved from benevolence to maliciousness with ease. Overall, this was a likeable production but the talents of the cast might have been better served by a more demanding play (such as Godot or Macbeth or Mother Courage).
Keith Hopper - Oxford Times