Thérèse Raquin continues at the Park Theatre, London, until 24 August.
Emile Zola’s mucky, macabre tale of the adultery and murder that ‘human animals’ get up to midst the tea-and-dominoes pseudo-gentility atop a little haberdashery shop in late 19th century Paris makes for a mighty unusual musical.
If you head for the friendly 200-seater Park Theatre expecting a shedload of catchy Les Mis-style melodies in Nona Shepphard’s radical adaptation of Zola’s naturalistic early novel, written when he was 27, you have come to the wrong place. It is not that sort of musical.
Craig Adams’ jagged, soaring score, superbly interpreted by MD James Simpson and his band of five, totally complements the grisly story, but you won’t come out humming ‘May As Well But Why Not’’, the dramatic ‘The Stream’ and ‘Who Knows?’ which have the audience on edge at the start of Act II, or any of the other gems which power Shepphard’s book and hypnotic lyrics.
Thérèse Raquin is riveting stuff and if some members of the audience are undecided at the interval whether it is quite their cup of poison, the shocking, atmospheric Act II has to be a clincher.
Just a few white sheets somehow make the mortuary scene even more harrowing, and Neil Fraser’s brooding lighting draws us in when the ghost of the dead man comes back to haunt the guilt-ridden couple vainly trying to replicate the original passion now that they’re married and it is all ‘legal’.
Julie Atherton, sullenly silent in her dreary arranged marriage for most of the first half until suddenly erupting into requited lust for a visiting childhood friend of her sickly husband, is excellent reprising the title role she took in the tiny Finborough fringe sell-out in the spring.
Jeremy Legat, as the cuckolded Camille, and Tara Hugo, as the stifling matriarch who suffocates any sexuality out of her wimpish son, also retain their Finborough parts in this three-week transfer and are quite superb.
With the original sex-on-legs Laurent, Ben Lewis, otherwise engaged, the one newcomer among the main characters is Greg Barnett and, with his strong, powerful voice, he makes his presence felt straight away.
But the entire cast is nigh-on faultless with Gary Tushaw particularly eye-catching as Laurent’s oily superior Grevet. The three River Women, Ellie Kirk, Claire Greenway and Lucy O’Byrne, are splendid as a sort of Greek-tragedy chorus, while James Hume, Matthew Harvey, Lila Clements and Iwan Lewis all create believable characterisations in support.
The larger space at the Park gives Laura Cordrey’s clever scaffolded set a chance to breathe, and although an audience on three sides means there is inevitably going to be some blocking and masking, the power and electricity of this high-octane piece is clear for all to see.