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

Alison Steadman is transfixing as the murdered man's mother

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

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.