Émile Zola’s Thérèse Raquin, written in 1867, is a story of love, lust, madness and despair. The seemingly stoic, shy and refined protagonist is married off according to her aunt’s wishes to her cousin Camille, who is thought of as sickly. When Therese meets Camille’s artist friend Laurent, a passionate affair begins between the two of them that ultimately leads to madness, destruction and murder.
Secret/Heart’s production of this iconic piece of writing, is mind blowing. It is no easy feat to engage a modern day audience for two and a half hours, but this production does so with flair and fluidity. Seb Harcombe’s direction keeps the pace flowing beautifully, with each pause delicately placed and the naturalism of each character’s slightest reactions meticulously thought out. The atmosphere of each scene is captured tremendously, leading to a clear understanding of the story’s progress and the shifts in the emotional journey of the play.
There is no weak link when it comes to the cast. The actors are clearly intelligently connected to the text in terms of realism and context. With the exception of a few ropey accent moments, the acting is superb. Each performer shows tremendous depth and freedom within their characters, indicating to the audience the stereotypical characters of the time. Sam Goodchild shows incredible versatility and physicality in the role of Camille whilst Matthew Hopkinson and Lily Knight expertly portray a fierce and turbulent relationship between Laurent and Thérèse. A particularly poignant moment is Thérèse speech in the first act in which she speaks out against the refined, housewife she is expected to be. An incredibly powerful piece of writing, tremendously executed. Finally, Freddie Greaves was outstanding in the role of Michaud. His execution of hilarious text, matched with his sublime realism is a real highlight.
The staging of the play is imaginative and effective. The varied levels along with the simplistic and slick scene changes make for an engaging setting throughout. A huge amount of credit must go to David Ledger for his terrific sound design which neatly assists the scene changes, creates tension and at one or two points makes the audience leap out of their seats in fear! Designer, Olivia du Monceau has succeeded in creating an heir or spookiness throughout and the rustic nature of the design compliments the mood of the play itself.
The main triumph of this production is that you are engaged throughout. It is always compelling and the pace never shows the slightest sign of dropping. Of course, the writing plays a hugely significant role in connecting the audience but the production itself is mesmerising. Secret/Heart will take you on a journey that will leave you thrilled, moved, stunned and perhaps terrified. Not to be missed.
Thérèse Raquin is running at The Southwark Playhouse until 3rd September 2016 for information and tickets visit: The Secret Heart website.