In the grim genre of tales of adultery and murder, Emile Zola's 1867 classic Thérèse Raquin is among the most claustraphobic and bleak - qualities which are amply present in Jeremy Raison's dark and impressive debut production as artistic director of the Citizens' Theatre, in Glasgow.
To a score by Corin Buckeridge, Zola's 19th-century Paris is glimpsed through a black gauze, a noirish visual and audio circus of society and "outsiders". This is the "Citz" as we have rarely seen it, stripped back to the brick, a world of dark, shifting shapes that manages to suggest both vast space and confinement. Faceless umbrella-men scurry about in a highly stylised overture, symbolically refusing to shelter Carla Henry's excellent shell-shocked Thérèse, pushing her out into the relentless dripping water that seems to be sweated out of the pores of the building itself. This balletic choreography is a neat echo of Zola's intense, deliberate writing, in a visually exciting but essentially straight adaptation of his novel.
Thérèse is married off to her cousin, the dull, weak, manipulative Camille. Anne Lacey is superb as Camille's mother, Mme Raquin, domineering, protective, looking for payback for her "self-sacrifice" in taking in her niece Thérèse, the product of her brother and an Algerian "savage", as she puts it.
The triangular relationship is incestuous and sexless, and it is inevitable that Thérèse - a drowning woman - will grasp at the first man who can pull her out of the dark nightmare of her sham marriage. Cue directionless, showy Laurent, would-be artist and jobbing railway clerk. Their adult affair is played out at the level of a children's game - passionate, intense, unrestrained. It is a testament to this atmospheric production that their subsequent crime passionnel seems the only rational escape route.
"We're going to be happy here," the doomed Camille says to Thérèse, echoed (a little too clumsily) by Laurent a few years later. The power play is fascinating. Thérèse instinctively manipulates Laurent as she herself is controlled by the whiny Camille, whose casual cruelty through ignorance is shockingly answered.
It's intensely claustrophobic and Thérèse-centric: we are in the mind and world of Thérèse. Camille's mental weaknesses are reflected in his sickly, pale exterior, his unspecified physical ailments. "Poor little Camille," Thérèse taunts, before she realises that she is bound to him for ever.
Zola's novel shocked his contemporaries, but this is an uneasy rewrite, a series of stunning but repetitive tableaux. Minor characters are boiled down into one awkward on-stage persona, the Doctor, a caricature with too many narrative duties. Shadowy figures skulk in the fringes of Soutra Gilmore's stripped set, white-faced, decaying, multiplying as Thérèse's and Laurent's guilt intensifies. We are never sure if the spectre of Camille is physical or a mental incarnation of guilt, which muddies, rather than expands, the narrative thrust. In a production that relies on suggestion more than words, this unremittingly bleak descent into a supernatural and/or psychological hell is not so much a sharp dive as a shallow, tentative slide.
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