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Therese Raquin review at Southwark Playhouse, London – ‘spine-chilling thriller’

Lily Knight and Matthew Hopkinson in Therese Raquin at the Southwark Playhouse, London. Photo: Pearlie Frisch Lily Knight and Matthew Hopkinson in Therese Raquin at the Southwark Playhouse, London. Photo: Pearlie Frisch

As the fug clears to reveal walls glistening with putrescent Parisian grandeur, disturbing stabs of piano break the silence. Flickering shadows hint at the dark deeds to come.

Secret/Heart’s adaptation of Emile Zola’s Therese Raquin captures the essence of the original novel. Imprisoned domestically and romantically, Therese begins a torrid liaison that leads all concerned to psychological and physical ruin.

Her fey, lisping husband Camille (Sam Goodchild) is a model of self-absorbed smuggery. Spoiled by his dominant mother, he unwittingly invites the object of his destruction into his home: the gruff artist Laurent, a childhood acquaintance and colleague. Furtive glances exchanged across the dominoes table eventually turn to full-blown lust under the noses of their regular visitors. Despite the occasional longueur, the tension builds as they strive to break free.

While the characters’ intergenerational differences are occasionally blurred by casting, this does little to detract from the overall atmosphere. Freddie Greaves’ policeman and doting uncle Michaud is aimiable if a little youthful, while Alis Wyn Davies gives a standout performance, charting Mme Raquin’s journey from domineering busybody to withered doomsayer.

The production hits its stride in the second half, when the consequences of the affair play out. Startling effects and explicit, writhing violence create moments of genuine shock. Matthew Hopkinson conveys well the transformation of the artist from intriguing piece of rough to browbeating schemer, while Lily Knight’s Therese becomes convincingly haunted by their past actions. Instead of being set free, she finds her physical imprisonment replaced with a psychological one.

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Spine-chilling thriller realised with panache and physicality by a dynamic young cast