Thérèse Raquin

Robert Chuter

Gary Abrahams is proving a fascinating director with his never-ending ability to surprise.
Thérèse Raquin

Aaron Walton and Elizabeth Nabben. Image by Lachlan Woods. 

Actor/Director/Writer Gary Abrahams is on a roll. Following his successful stints at Red Stitch, he turns his knowing eye towards Thérèse Raquin, Emile Zola's period tragedy, which feels like the very best parts of Lady Chatterley's Lover, Hedda Gabbler, Macbeth and Crime and Punishment all strung together. Taking on both script adaptor and director, under Abraham’s clear hand this production comes to life with an astonishing power.

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Revolving around her unhappy arranged marriage to the valetudinarian, Camille Raquin, under the dominating eye of Madame Raquin, Thérèse begins an affair with Laurent, Camille's colleague and childhood friend. As the passions mount, the two develop a plan to kill Camille, an act which draws them into hellhole of blame and guilt.

While Abrahams’s adaptation is compelling, laced with irony and terrific scenes, what makes this production sparkling and fresh are the wonderful performances: Elizabeth Nabben inhabits the title role with a fearless intensity that is reminiscent of Cate Blanchett's turn as Hedda Gabbler in the mid 2000s. Switching between powerful and fragile on a dime, Nabben is also a mistress of subtlety, saying monologues when no lines are written, and it is these moments when she is most alive.  I defy anyone not to be mesmerized by her presence.  Also astounding is Marta Kaczmarek as the dominating Madame Raquin, who has habituated looking after her son so much that this has passed onto all around her. Kaczmarek’s performance is notable for its economy and power, taking over the stage just as she takes over lives. Great support is given by excellent Oliver Coleman as Grivet. Paul Blenheim as Camille shines as the smothered invalid, bringing dignity to an undignified character. 

Abrahams is proving a fascinating director with his never-ending ability to surprise. From the clever multimedia touches of Roam to the suggestions of place here, he is certainly not lacking in imagination (evident in the murder scene, using a landscape watercolour to great effect - a moment that won’t be forgotten for a long time). He keeps pacing and stakes high by bringing out the best in his cast, betraying a love of high-energy performance that does not overshadow character or intention. He never falls into the trap of the traditional ‘shouting match’ allowing his actors to breathe with nuance among this hysterics. It is a rare skill, and his love of character and story shine through.

Jacob Battista’s set design is eye-catching together with glorious and detailed costuming by Chloe Greaves.  Christopher De Groot 's live music ranges from minimalist score to bassy, mood driven soundscapes. Hidden behind the perspex set, his omnipotent presence is felt in the entire production, even if it does become somewhat overpowering at times.  While I do have the feeling, as is often the case, that there is more to be gotten out of this elegant production as it plays on through the season, this strong band of creatives have produced a vibrant production that must be said is one of the most unmissable playing right now. No dust on this classic.

Rating: 4 ½ out of 5 stars

Thérèse Raquin

Written and directed by Gary Abrahams
Set Designed by Jacob Battista
Costumes by Chloe Greaves
Lighting Designer: Katie Sfetkidis
Composer:  Christopher De Groot
Stage Manager: Hayley Fox
Presented by Theatre Works and Dirty Pretty Theatre

Theatreworks, 14 Acland Street, St Kilda
www.theatreworks.org.au
14 - 30 August


What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Robert Chuter is a Melbourne theatre and film director and who has given audiences over 250 +complex, controversial and visually rich productions to date. His debut feature, The Dream Children, was released internationally in 2015.