Therese Raquin, Theatre Royal Bath, review: 'Highly intelligent and horribly compelling'

Alison Steadman is transfixing as the murdered man's mother

Adapted by Helen Edmundson and directed by Jonathan Munby, this is a highly intelligent and horribly compelling stage treatment of Zola's great 1867 novel of adulterous love, murder, and then the mutual disgust and psychological disintegration that ensue as the water-logged deed haunts and consumes the errant couple. 

The glorious Pippa Nixon delivers a performance perfectly pitched to the production's propulsive, light-on-its-casters blend of the realist and the expressionist. 

Initially, she's a blue-gowned, flightless bird caged in a sexless marriage to a hypochondriac mummy's boy (Hugh Skinner). 

Then her husband's hot-as-all-hell friend (a Lawrentianly charismatic Kieran Bews)  infiltrates more than their tight little circle of friends,whose fussy stifling routines are wittily captured by a fine group of actors led by Desmond Barrit.

The explosive erotic release between Therese and Laurent is depicted as a many-angled ballet of rapturous rutting abandon, graphic but not gratuitous. 

I shan't give away how and why their subsequent marriage is dread-inducingly joyless, except to say that is not carried out in the clinical manner of Zola who treats the job as like dissecting a corpse. 

Alison Steadman is transfixing as the murdered man's mother. She's paralysed by a stroke brought on by the shock. Only her eyes work and they are forced to witness horrors of hypocrisy before they are eventually and disturbingly gratified.