Thérèse Raquin - Theatre Works
Theatre Works and Dirty Pretty Theatre present:
Adapted from the novel by Émile Zola by Gary Abrahams
This production of Thérèse Raquin premiered at Theatre Works, St Kilda, Melbourne on the
16th August, 2014
Paris, 1863…Thérèse lives a life of servitude and desperation. After being married off to her sickly
cousin by his doting mother, her aunt, Thérèse’s melancholy is shifted by the arrival of Laurent,
her husband’s friend, with whom she begins an illicit affair. Dangerously in love, their selfish
passions unite in a hatred for Thérèse’s husband, which eventuates in his cruel and brutal murder
at the hands of damaged lovers. Causing great controversy when first published – it was labelled
as “obscene” by many – Thérèse Raquin is a superb examination of corrupted morals and turns
the city of love into the sinister setting for murder
Theatre Works and Dirty Pretty Theatre welcome Theatre Studies students and their teachers to
this production, a theatrical adaptation of Émile Zola’s novel, Thérèse Raquin. We are aware that
your study of the performance will take a particular focus, the analysis and evaluation of the
acting and design in a production. The production draws on particular theatrical styles to tell the
characters’ stories and you will be analysing what these are and how they are made evident.
A closer focus will include a study of the characters in the play and how the actors interpret them
on stage through their use of expressive skills; facial expression, voice, gesture, movement,
language, non-verbal language, stillness and silence, use of space and how these combine as
skills and with other elements to convey intended meaning. As part of your study of the
performance you also need to consider what motivates characters, the role of status, and how
both these shift and change with each character’s journey. Finally you are required to explore
the actor/audience relationship/s, how they are established and maintained or indeed how they
shift as the performance progresses.
But…don’t forget to engage with the performance you see of Thérèse Raquin as an audience
member, and as an artist. What you bring to it and what you take away are also important to the
ongoing richness of contemporary theatre making.
CAST AND CREATIVE TEAM
Christopher de Groot
Direction and Adaptation
Original Composition and Live Music
SETTING THE CONTEXT
PLOT AND CHARACTERS
THE STORY OF THÉRÈSE REQUIN
Thérèse Raquin is the daughter of a French captain and an Algerian mother. After the death of her mother, her
father brings her to live with her aunt, Madame Raquin, and her sickly son, Camille. Because her son is so ill,
Madame Raquin dotes on Camille to the point where he is selfish and spoiled. Camille and Thérèse grow up
side-by-side, and Madame Raquin marries them to one another when Thérèse is 21. Shortly thereafter, Camille
decides that the family should move to Paris so he can pursue a career.
Thérèse and Madame Raquin set up shop in the Passage du Pont Neuf to support Camille while he searches for
a job. Camille eventually begins working for the Orleans Railroad Company, where he meets up with a
childhood friend, Laurent. Laurent visits the Raquins and decides to take up an affair with the lonely Thérèse,
mostly because he cannot afford prostitutes any more. However, this soon turns into a torrid love affair. They
secretly meet up regularly in Thérèse's room. After some time, Laurent's boss no longer allows him to leave
early and so the two lovers have to think of something new. Thérèse comes up with the idea to kill Camille.
They eventually succeed in doing so by drowning Camille during a boat trip. Defending himself, Camille bites
Laurent in the throat.
Madame Raquin is in shock after hearing the disappearance of her son and everybody believes the fake story
of an accident. But Laurent is still uncertain about whether Camille is truly dead and frequently visits the
mortuary, where he finally finds the dead Camille. Still, Thérèse has nightmares and doesn't talk, so Michaud—
one of the regular visitors of the family—comes up with the idea that Thérèse should marry again and that the
ideal husband would be Laurent. But even after their marriage, the murder does not let go of them. They have
hallucinations of seeing the dead Camille in their bedroom every night, preventing them from touching each
other and quickly driving them insane. Laurent, who is an artist, can no longer paint a picture (even a
landscape) which does not in some way resemble the dead man. They also have to look after Madame Raquin,
who suffered a stroke after Camille's death. Madame Raquin suffers a second stroke and becomes completely
paralysed except for her eyes (as in ‘Locked-in syndrome’) after which Thérèse and Laurent reveal the murder
in her presence during an argument.
During an evening's game of dominoes with friends, Madame Raquin manages to move her finger with an
extreme effort of will to trace words on the table: "Thérèse et Laurent ont ...". The complete sentence was
intended to be "Thérèse et Laurent ont tué Camille" (Thérèse and Laurent killed Camille). At this point her
strength gives out, and the words are interpreted as "Thérèse and Laurent look after me very well".
Eventually, Thérèse and Laurent find life together intolerable and plot to kill each other. At the climax, the two
are about to kill one another when each of them realises the plans of the other. They each then break down
sobbing and reflect upon their miserable lives. After having embraced one last time, they each kill themselves
by taking poison, all in front of the watchful gaze of Madame Raquin, who enjoys the late vengeance of her
In Thérèse Raquin Émile Zola creates such an intricate study of two very fascinating and complex
characters, and a very dense and active story in which to place these characters - Gary
The wife of Camille and the orphaned daughter of Madame
Raquin's brother and an unknown African woman, early 20s
Thérèse's husband and first cousin, works as a clerk at the
Orléans Railroad Company with Laurent and Grivet, mid to
Camille's mother and Thérèse's aunt. She works as a
shopkeeper in a haberdashery shop to support the family,
late 40s early 50s
A childhood friend and co-worker of Camille who seduces
Thérèse, about the same age as Camille
An ex-police commissioner and friend of Madame Raquin,
Michaud’s niece, 16 years old
An employee of the Orléans Railroad Company, where
Camille works, mid 30s
This production is set in the original context of Zola’s novel, 1860s, Paris, France. Much of the
play is set in the Raquin’s small apartment above their haberdashery shop in the Passage du Pont
Neuf (see below). This setting has important implications for the actors in creating and
performing their characters. The political, social and cultural aspects of European society of that
time meant that gender roles were more defined, language was more formal and these impacted
on family and social behaviours. Further, the fashion of the 1860s strongly modified women’s
movements and lifestyle – imagine breathing in a corset? Imagine trying to sit, go through a
THE STAGING/SETTING (as described in the play script by Gary Abrahams)
An apartment above a haberdashery in the Passage du Pont-Neuf, Paris. The stage is divided in
two. The main space is a living area, at the back of which is a large dirty window overlooking the
alley way behind the passage. Upstage right is a small entrance leading into a small, dark
kitchenette area. Upstage, to the left of this is the front door to the apartment, from which leads
a stairwell downstairs into the store. Stage right is a door leading off the living room into Mme
RAQUIN’S bedroom (unseen).
Stage left centre, in the wall dividing the stage, is a door leading into CAMILLE and THÉRÈSE’S
bedroom. In the upstage left corner of the room is a small backdoor, opening onto a back
staircase which leads directly outside into the back alleyway. Both the living area and the
bedroom can be seen simultaneously.
The Passage du Pont Neuf, a small arcade of shops over one of which the Raquin’s had their apartment.
Read more about the arcades or passages of Paris at: http://doves2day.blogspot.com.au/2010/01/passages-ofparis-illumination-and.html
Here are two images of the performance space at Theatre Works.
Using the staging description above, imagine/predict how such a setting may be created in this
What type of actor/audience relationship may be established?
Would the set be elevated or be at floor level?
What are the strengths offered by either of these choices?
There is an exterior location in the story, how might this space accommodate that?
Seating bank at Theatre Works
End on configuration, view of the performance space
The psychology of ‘naturalism’
Thérèse Raquin was described by Zola as an attempt to "forensically examine" the symptoms,
physiological and psychological effects and consequences of the exercise of forbidden, adulterous
passions on the part of the main protagonists, Thérèse Raquin and her lover, the feckless, would be artist,
Laurent. The background histories of both are presented, as well as their current circumstances (the
symptoms), enabling us to understand the motivations for their later actions: namely, adultery and
murder, and their consequences: madness and suicide.
The naturalist writers’ tendency to see life without illusions and to dwell on its more depressing and
sordid aspects was the way in which critics characterised it as a movement. Many of the "naturalist"
writers took a radical position against the excesses of romanticism and strove to use scientific and
encyclopedic precision in their novel. Hippolyte Taine supplied much of the philosophy of naturalism: he
believed that every human being was determined by the forces of heredity and environment and by the
time in which he lived. The influence of certain Norwegian (Ibsen), Swedish and Russian (Gorky,
Chekhov) writers gave an added impulse to the naturalistic movement.
Adapted from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/19th-century_French_literature
Read the above analyses/discussions and consider what they offer you as a student of Theatre
Studies about to see the performance (or possibly even post-show!)
What insights do they provide about the world of the play, the characters, the family
What insights do they offer when considering the motivations and status of the characters?
What insights do they offer about theatrical styles explored in the production?
About Émile Zola
Émile Zola was born in Paris, France on 2 April, 1840, the son of Francois Zola, and engineer and his wife
Emilie Aubert. He grew up in Aiz-en-Provence, attending the (now named) College Mignet, then the Lycé
Saint Louis in Paris. Under the harsh straits of poverty after his father died, Zola worked various clerical
jobs. He then moved onto to writing literary columns for Cartier de Villemessant’s newspapers. A sign of
things to come Zola was a harsh and outspoken critic of Napoleon.’…my work becomes a picture of a
departed reign, of a strange period of human madness and shame.’ He was also harshly anti-Catholic,
‘Civilization will not attain to its perfection until the last stone from the last church falls on the last priest’.
Initially borrowing from the Romantic Movement, Zola became a proponent of French naturalism along
with such notable authors of the time, Stephen Crane, George Gissing and Guy de Maupassant. Inspired by
Claude Bernard’s Introduction to Experimental Medicine (1865), Zola soon found his voice as a
dispassionate scientific observer of French society, human nature, and moral decay often in painstakingly
sordid detail. Zola was brought to trial for criminal libel on 7 February 1898 and was convicted on 23
February and removed from the Legion of Honor. Rather than go to jail, Zola fled to England. Without even
having had the time to pack a few clothes, he arrived at Victoria Station on 19 July. After his brief and
unhappy residence in London, from October 1898 to June 1899, he was allowed to return in time to see the
government fall. Zola died on the 29 September 1902 at his home as a result of carbon monoxide
poisoning from a poorly ventilated chimney.
A rising middle class in Europe and America
The nineteenth century for Europe and America has been called the "century of the middle class." Growth
in both power and prestige of the middle class was perhaps the most important single development in
social and economic history. Prior to the nineteenth century, there was a recognizable middle class, but it
was not large. With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, new wealth was created, and concomitantly
the middle class became the harbingers of morals, the work ethic, and numerous other characteristics that
have become part of our fabric of society.
Who were the middle class? It was not a homogeneous unit in terms of occupation or income. Usually one
received a salary rather than hourly wages. What today we would call a white collar worker. Included in
this group called the middle class were ministers, lawyers, teachers, doctors, bureaucrats, business
tycoons, traders, and shop keepers.
The middle class were devoted to the ideal of family and home. During this time the home displaced the
church as a refuge and spiritual haven. Home became a status symbol and emotional bulwark against the
rude commercial world. The father was the master of the household. Middle class family rituals helped to
sustain this hierarchy, with the father at the head of the table during meals. A popular adage of the day
was "children were to be seen not heard." The wife was to be subject to her husband as well, and often
treated as a superior servant not as an equal. Alfred Lord Tennyson's immortal words convey the wife's
task to keep the household functioning smoothly and harmoniously: "Man for the field, woman for the
hearth, man for the sword and for the needle she; man with the head and woman with the heart, man to
command and woman to obey; all else confusion."
Read more at: http://web.clark.edu/afisher/HIST253/lecture_text/WomenMiddleClass_19c_Europe.pdf
Consider the contextual information provided and discuss how you think it will impact on:
The use of the actors’ expressive skills
The acting styles used in the production
The stagecraft and design elements
The conveying of intended meaning
The actor/audience relationship
A recurring motif in both the novel and the play of Thérèse Raquin is dominoes. In Act 1, Scene 2
the visitors to the Raquin apartment alert the audience to the fact that every Thursday they meet
to play dominoes. Are you familiar with the game and its history, rules and symbolism?
Dominoes (or dominos) is an Italian title. It is a game played with rectangular "domino" tiles. The
domino gaming pieces make up a domino set, sometimes called a deck or pack. The traditional
Sino-European domino set consists of 28 dominoes, colloquially
nicknamed bones, cards, tiles, tickets, stones, or spinners. Each domino is a rectangular tile with a
line dividing its face into two square ends. Each end is marked with a number of spots (also called
pips, nips or dobs) or is blank. The backs of the dominoes in a set are indistinguishable, either
blank or having some common design. A domino set is a generic gaming device, similar to playing
cards or dice, in that a variety of games can be played with a set.
The earliest mention of dominoes is from Song Dynasty China, found in the text Former Events in
Wulin. Dominoes first appeared in Italy during the 18th century, and although it is unknown
how Chinese dominoes developed into the modern game, it is speculated that Italian missionaries
in China may have brought the game to Europe. The name "domino" is from the resemblance to
a kind of hood worn during the Venice carnival.
Most domino games are blocking games, i.e. the objective is to empty one's hand while blocking
the opponent's. In the end, a score may be determined by counting the pips in the losing players'
What might the game of dominoes represent or be a metaphor for within the world of the play?
Why isn’t Thérèse invited to play?
How does the domino game indicate time passing?
Previous productions of Thérèse Raquin
The National Theatre, London’s production: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=huR7BLQ3DgQ
Queensland’s Zen Zen Zo’s production: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qvd03SHG99A
In Secret: The new film adaptation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L58WBZDHP1s
BBC 1980s series: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XSP0-qq7I_s&list=PLmsqCaYnG9g29vw8lfUyWKchT9b6xHbi
Melodrama as a form of theatre: http://novaonline.nvcc.edu/eli/spd130et/melodrama.htm
A history of British Melodrama: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/0-9/19th-centurytheatre/
A literary article that seeks to define and explain the characteristics of gothic fiction:
IN CONVERSATION WITH GARY ABRAHAMS, SCRIPT ADAPTATION & DIRECTION
In the early weeks of rehearsal, Gary Abrahams shared some insight into the production of Thérèse
Raquin he has adapted and is directing for a season at Theatre Works in August, 2014
What drew you to Thérèse Raquin as a story and as a potential piece of theatre?
As a theatre maker I am always fascinated by human behavior and the human condition I read the novel
many years ago, and like many others, found it an exhilarating and disturbing read. In Thérèse Raquin
Émile Zola creates such an intricate study of two very fascinating and complex characters, and a very
dense and active story in which to place these characters. Through the actions and events of the story he
explores how they all behave psychologically and emotionally. This makes it ripe fruit for the theatre, the
story and world of the play, and most importantly the characters, suit the art form of live drama.
After reading the novel I researched several playwrights’ adaptations, including one that Émile Zola
himself wrote. I found them somewhat unsatisfying. I wanted to create a version that retained the sense
of exhilaration I felt when reading the novel. I was also drawn to the powerful themes of the work and
how they might relate to a contemporary audience, themes that related to people who were forced into
lives and circumstances not of their choosing and how desperate lives can lead to desperate actions.
Gary you have adapted and written the script for this new production. What has been that process? Did
you begin with the novel? What essential moments and characters from Zola’s novel/play have
The process of adapting a novel to the stage is a long and complex one. I used the novel as my main
source, but also studied all the various other play texts that are based on the source material, including
operas and musicals. It was helpful to see what other playwrights had retained of the novel. I then spent
time breaking the story down into themes and units of actions, and identified recurring images that
present themselves through the novel. Death, water, darkness, dampness and rotting flesh were all
images that stayed with me.
I also took some time to realise what it was I wanted to say through adapting the work. I think it’s
essential as a theatre maker and storyteller to find your own point of view, to identify what it is you
personally want to communicate to an audience about life and the human condition. I see the role of the
adaptor as a ‘communion’ between the thoughts and ideas of the original writer, your own ideas and the
audience. Adapting allows you to find points of similarity and of deviation from the source material. I had
to ask myself; what could the form of theatre offer to the story that isn’t offered by the novel?
Some of the main points of difference from the novel that this theatrical adaptation will offer are:
The location of the play. The novel moves between several locations, both internal and external.
Creating a play offered me the chance to locate all the action in a single setting, which heightens a
sense of claustrophobia and entrapment.
The novel has several minor characters that I have omitted. I also got rid of the character of
Olivier. This allowed me to alter the character of Suzanne and make her younger, and create for
her a love story that could play in juxtaposition to the story of Thérèse and Laurent. A smaller cast
also heightens the sense of how limited and confined the lives of the Raquin’s are.
I had to condense the time line of the novel. The novel takes place over a several years. My play
takes place over just one year. This allows me to heighten the sense of urgency and pace of the
action and events.
The novel allows for many internal psychological monologues for the characters. We get to read
their thoughts and understand them through their own minds. Creating drama forces me to find
ways of external this, in a sense show the audience rather than tell them. I think weaker
adaptations use direct address and soliloquies as a way of speaking aloud the original prose. I
wanted to avoid that because I don’t think it creates strong drama.
The main plot points are all retained because they are what cause the actions that affect the
characters and allow us to explore their psychological journey. For example Thérèse is still forced
to marry Camille, Laurent is still introduced to the family early on, Laurent and Thérèse still begin
an affair, and of course they still must murder Camille. It would be the archetypal story of Thérèse
Raquin without these essential plot points.
You are also directing this production. What are the challenges of being both writer and director? What
are the opportunities?
The challenge is being disciplined and recognising that while you are wearing two hats, both hats are very
different and shouldn’t bleed into one. When I am writing I can’t allow myself to say “I can’t get this scene
right, I’ll just solve it in rehearsal”. When I’m in rehearsal I can’t blame the writer if a scene is proving
tricky or difficult! The greatest advantage is that as this is a new work the writing is never 100% complete.
If actors are finding through lines of thoughts difficult, or if they have some great insights into moments,
then I can put on my writing hat and make changes to the script. I have actually written a very difficult
script to direct, and I knew it would be so, but I didn’t let that affect my choices as a writer.
I wanted to write a form of drama that was episodic, and required quick scene changes. I was determined
to explore this form as a writer, and not let my director mind hijack the writing process. As a writer you
can’t allow yourself to direct the play as you write. Hand in hand with that is that as a director I had to
approach rehearsals from a place of not knowing, and allow myself to discover the script with the actors.
What is very exciting is that the play, through rehearsals, is becoming something very different to what I
thought it might be.
Would you talk about the rehearsal/creative process for this work? What happened on the first day of
rehearsal? Where are you now?
My rehearsal processes are different from project to project, but they are always focused on the actor.
Everything about rehearsals is about allowing the actors to discover and inhabit the text, creating space
for them to deeply comprehend and connect with what they are saying. We begin by doing lots of script
analysis. This included researching the world of the play, in this instance Paris in 1860. We looked at art
work from the time, explored what was happening historically in Europe at the time, researched what
philosophies were present at the time, and of course Émile Zola’s own life and work.
We then looked at the script and broke the story into units of action and the beats. Each scene is a unit of
action, but within each scene there are smaller units of action, and within those are smaller units that are
called beats. This helps us understand shifts in rhythm, thought and energy. I then spent time with each
actor and talked about their characters histories, back stories and traits. It’s essential that before we get
on the floor the actors have developed a dense case history for their characters. The history of each
character absolutely affects the choices the actor can then make about their characters behavior and way
of being in the world. We then begin quite physically and abstractly on the floor. I get the actors to do
animal work, in which they identify their character with an animal and then explore the way that animal
moves, breathes and reacts. The actors then play with humanizing these animal traits, exploring how
these traits might affect the way they walk, talk and breathe.
We then begin to explore the text in a variety of ways and with many different exercises, with the focus
being on the actor connecting to the text and the thoughts and feelings of the characters. This takes a
long time and avoids starting to block the play before the actors have had time to find and discover many
things about their characters and their relationships. We do this for many weeks. After this we create the
set with the actors, and play with different arrangements of space and furniture. Once the set is created
the actors then continue to explore the space very physically and abstractly, finding many interesting
shapes and spatial dynamics. Finally, only after a long period of exploration, do we start to actually block
the play, finding the pattern of movement that the actors perform from moment to moment.
What type of ‘world’ are you creating? What will the audience experience?
The world of the play is one of heightened expressionist realism. By this I mean that the piece is
performed in a very heightened and extreme emotional state, but is still rooted in a recognisable reality.
The mannerisms of the actors are very specific and choreographed, retaining an expressionist precision.
The world is very dark and foreboding, full of shadows and sounds. The movements of the actors are
fierce and passionate, allowing for the extreme side of human nature to be revealed. We are also playing
with different genres, including horror. This means that many of the creative choices we are making lend
themselves to the establishment of a sense of suspense and foreboding. It is a world full deceit and tales
of crime and murder. The way the actors move, and talk, and react to each other all help create this
heightened world that is at once recognisable but also strange and unique, a world that sits somewhere
between real life and a nightmare.
Theatre Studies students attending the show will have a particular focus on acting and performance.
What demands does this story place on the actors? What opportunities does it offer?
The biggest demand is that this story is epic in scale. What I mean by this is that the story takes place over
a long amount of time. The events happen over a period of a year. Therefor the characters undergo a long
and complex character arch from the beginning of the play to the end. However, we as an audience only
see particular moments of their lives over that time. The challenge for the actors is to fill in all the missing
moments for themselves so that when they begin each scene they are filled with all the backstory
information that has lead them to that point. Having knowledge of all the in-between scenes “stuff”
changes and affects what they bring into each scene.
Another challenge is the intensity of the experiences for each character. Grief, jealousy, guilt and lust are
all large emotions, and difficult ones for actors to explore during rehearsals without it taking a personal
toll on them. At the same time it isn’t possible to fully delve into the work and discover truthful ways of
performing it without being fully able to immerse yourself in these emotional states during rehearsals. It
isn’t possible to find interesting moments if the actors are just “marking it through in rehearsal”. Stamina
is required in order to not exhaust themselves to the point of not being able to work usefully.
The style of the piece also provides a great challenge. The actors are portraying people from a different
period, so their mannerisms and behavior is very different to how people behave today. The actors have
to do a lot of detailed research in order to appropriate the suitable mannerisms, and consider their vocal
quality, movement and gesture. Even something as simple as breathing becomes difficult when wearing a
corset and the costumes of the period.
How would you describe the status play between the characters of Thérèse, Laurent, Camille and Mme
Raquin? What motivates them?
All the characters are motivated in different ways, but ultimately they are all in pursuit of the same goal;
happiness. It can be said that all drama is about characters in search of that goal. However, everyone has
different obstacles, and the way each character goes about achieving their goal depends on their innate
character traits and their own personal obstacles. For example, Madame Raquins’ happiness relies
entirely on the safety and happiness of her son, Camille. Camille’s happiness relies on him getting his
dream job and feeling part of a larger life in a big office and a big city. Laurent’s happiness relies on him
being able to feel free from financial constraints. He believes a lazy life with little work and ample money
to enjoy himself will allow him to be happy. This fuels all his actions. Thérèse believes that her happiness
will come once she is free of Camille. You can see here how all the characters actions are created by their
pursuit of a goal, and how they choose to navigate around the obstacles.
Status play is very interesting in this world because we are dealing with a group of people who are all
from the same class. These are working people from the lower-middle classes. As there is little class
distinction between them, the shift of status, or the ownership of status, comes about through emotional
connections they have with the other characters. You could assume that Mme Raquin, being head of the
house, would have the higher status, but because she is so doting on Camille and so controlled by his
wishes we see that he has higher status than her. However, when he introduces Laurent to their world, it
is clear that he holds Laurent in high esteem. Therefore status shifts to Laurent. As Mme Raquin is so led
by Camille she also defers status to him.
Grivet and Michaud are constantly battling each other for status. Michaud, as the de-facto patriarch of
the household, assumes he ought to have higher status over Grivet, but Grivet refuses to give up his
higher status to anyone, and believes himself superior to others. This creates comedy, when two people
of similar status keep trying to claim higher status than the other.
Due to the time period women in society were considered to be lower status than men. However, at the
beginning of their affair Thérèse gains status over Laurent because of her recklessness. He gives power
over to her. She dictates the affair and the rules of the affair. In order to succeed in keeping the affair
secret she has to play out her traditional status role in social situations such as the domino games. For the
audience, the power of Thérèse’s secret actually increases her status over the other characters. The world
of this play relies on the constant shift in status from character to character and moment to moment. It’s
interesting to see how having a secret can inwardly raise someone’s status even though on the surface,
nothing has changed.
How have/are you collaborated/ing with the design team, Jacob Battista, Chloe Greaves, Katie Sfetkidis
and Christopher de Groot to create the world of the play?
The collaboration with the creative team is an essential component of creating a show. We hold weekly
meeting where we discuss design ideas, concerns about the staging of the show, and how the other
creative team members see the work being realised. We find it’s easier to talk in images than words, or to
give other tangible examples of what we are thinking. For example, working with costume designer Chloe,
we will both bring images to meetings of various costumes or drawings or paintings or photographs of
period dress. This way we can speak both literally (e.g examining a photo of a period dress from 1860) and
more abstractly (e.g. I can show her a painting I like and use it as a reference to look for material with a
Likewise with my lighting designer. I’ll bring in lots of pictures and paintings that speak to me about what I
see in my mind for the production and she’ll do the same. This way we can talk about lighting possibilities
and make sure we are on the same page and share a vision. With my composer we both listened to lots of
different classical music and played each other pieces that evoked for us the mood of the piece. By having
these concrete references he was able to compose pieces that were in the vein of what I was thinking, as
well as being able to open my mind to different possibilities or directions the music could take. We all also
see a lot of theatre and could talk to each other about other shows we liked or had been affected by, and
use these experiences as references.
All the conversations are about making sure we are all working towards a unified vision and that we all
understand the style we are hoping to achieve. It can be a disaster when your set designer is designing for
naturalism, but your costume designer wants to make something more abstract and expressionistic, and
your lighting designer is thinking about the wrong period all together. Everyone has to be on the same
page, and the only way to get there is to have lengthy conversations over a period of time, communicate
our ideas to each other (picture references help!) and to allow ourselves to be pen to each other’s ideas.
How would you describe the theatrical style/s of your production of Thérèse Raquin? Gothic? Realism?
Tragedy? What else?
I would describe the piece as a gothic romantic-tragedy melodrama. Melodrama is a style that isn’t done
very often in contemporary theatre because it requires such largesse of emotion. It is often derided by
modern theatre makers as being fake or false, and therefore laughable. However at its core melodrama is
about the expression of pure emotion in extreme states. Melodrama is always about stakes, nothing is
ever less than about life and death.
What does this production of Thérèse Raquin offer a contemporary audience?
I think when producing a classic piece set in a different era to our own, the hope is always that an
audience can see a reflection of themselves through a prism of the past. At first, as an audience we may
think “Oh, these people lived so long ago they aren’t like me at all.” However, once the story gets going
the audience forgets about the time difference and realises they can relate to the characters after all, and
ever more so than they could have imagined. Through this they have the revelation that humanity doesn’t
change, and hasn’t changed, and is essentially unchanged. The human condition hasn’t changed at all
since the time of Socrates and Plato and Sophocles. Drama is still about people dealing with their fate,
pursuing their goals and overcoming their obstacles. Our newspapers are filled with stories of crime and
murder, filled with tragic stories like the story of Thérèse Raquin. Watching a story set in the past reminds
us of the fact that humanity means all of humanity - living and dead, past and present, and we are all
connected through time. I believe that Aboriginal culture, and many other ancient cultures, understand
this well and that sometimes contemporary western culture needs reminding time and time again.
Analysis and Evaluation
The World of the Play
The play is set in 1860s Paris. When you first saw the set and the theatre space, what aspects of
the set and design reflected a period piece?
What were the aspects you noticed that placed the world of the play in the past?
As the performance unfolded, what performance and stagecraft aspects assisted in
establishing the 1860s era?
Although the novel and play were originally in French and you are watching a translation and
adaptation, were there any aspects that you felt reflected a French context?
The director, Gary Abrahams, talks about the world of the play as being one of ‘heightened
Discuss what each of these terms mean – heightened, expressionist, realism
Analyse and evaluate how they possibly combined to create the world of the play
‘A smaller cast also heightens the sense of how limited and confined the lives of the Raquin’s
are’. In way ways did the production generate a sense of the confined lives of the Raquin family?
‘My play takes place over just one year. This allows me to heighten the sense of urgency and
pace of the action and events’. Discuss whether a sense of urgency and pace is apparent in
Thérèse Raquin and how it is evident.
‘The world is very dark and foreboding, full of shadows and sounds’. Do you agree? What aspects
of the production seemed dark, foreboding and full of shadows?
Do you think Thérèse Raquin could be re-contextualised to another time and place? Where?
When? Who would the characters be in that new world? How would the stakes be maintained?
The Theatrical Styles
The period style and the director’s approach to Thérèse Raquin could be described as gothic,
romantic-tragedy, with the underlying psychology that epitomises French naturalism.
What are the characteristics of Gothic fiction?
What are the characteristics of romantic fiction?
How are elements of both these genres present in the production?
For instance, how is the intense relationship between Thérèse and Laurent juxtaposed
with their plot to murder Camille?
What deeper psychological exploration of the characters is evident in the production?
Director, Gary Abrahams, states that the production contains aspects of ‘melodrama’.
What is melodrama?
What aspects of the production, especially the acting styles, would you call
Consider the scene where the characters relate the story of the chopped up body
‘Melodrama is a style that isn’t done very often in contemporary theatre because it requires such
largesse of emotion’ – director, Gary Abrahams
What does the director mean by ‘largesse of emotions’?
How is heightened emotion made evident in the production through the acting?
‘I wanted to write a form of drama that was episodic, and required quick scene changes’.
Is the narrative comprised of episodes?
How does time work within the play?
How do the theatrical styles enable an entire year in the lives of the characters be
presented in two hours?
‘We are also playing with different genres, including horror. This means that many of the creative
choices we are making lend themselves to the establishment of a sense of suspense and
What aspects of the production do you feel ventured in the style of ‘horror’?
Were suspense and foreboding apparent and how were these established – consider
acting, sound, lighting, direction?
How does the direction of the production enable the actors to work effectively within the
Analyse and evaluate how the direction created dramatic tension between particular characters.
In particular consider the very opening scene where Thérèse is silent for a very long time.
Analyse and evaluate how the direction complemented and explored the theatrical styles within
The characters and acting
Analyse the opening scene between Thérèse, Camille and Mme Raquin.
How do the actors use silence to create tension?
How do the actors use rhythm to build tension?
‘It is a world full deceit and tales of crime and murder. The way the actors move, and talk, and
react to each other all help create this heightened world that is at once recognizable but also
strange and unique, a world that sits somewhere between real life and a nightmare’ – director,
Select two of the characters and do a detailed analysis of each
Consider voice, accent, movement, gesture, relationships to others, how they are spoken
about, who they speak to
Is this a heightened world and does that impact on the conveying of character?
‘Grief, jealousy, guilt and lust are all large emotions, and difficult ones for actors to explore
during rehearsals without it taking a personal toll on them. At the same time it isn’t possible to
fully delve into the work and discover truthful ways of performing it without being fully able to
immerse yourself in these emotional states during rehearsals’ – director, Gary Abrahams
Discuss this statement with regard to the actors who portray Thérèse and Laurent
How much might the actors have drawn on their expressive skills, and inner emotions in
working towards a ‘truthful’ way of creating the characters?
‘All the characters are motivated in different ways, but ultimately they are all in pursuit of the
same goal; happiness. It can be said that all drama is about characters in search of that goal.
However, everyone has different obstacles, and the way each character goes about achieving
their goal depends on their innate character traits and their own personal obstacles’ – director,
Analyse and discuss this comment by the director.
Is happiness the key motivation for all the characters?
What would make Thérèse happy?
What would make Grivet happy?
What would make Suzanne happy?
What makes Camille happy?
How are these motivations made evident in the production?
‘As there is little class distinction between them, the shift of status, or the ownership of status,
comes about through emotional connections they have with the other characters’ – director,
Analyse the status play between Thérèse and Laurent across the play
Select specific moments when you feel Thérèse had high status
Select specific moments when you feel Laurent had high status
How did the actors use their expressive skills, timing and tension to suggest this?
‘You could assume that Mme Raquin, being head of the house, would have the higher status, but
because she is so doting on Camille and so controlled by his wishes we see that he has higher
status than her’ – director, Gary Abrahams
Do you agree with this statement?
Does Mme Raquin then seek to diminish Thérèse as a result of that?
Consider the various games of dominoes.
Which characters hold higher status? Does this change? Is it competitive?
How do the actors who play Grivet and Michaud use their expressive skills to explore
In the scene where we first see Laurent and Thérèse in their affair, Thérèse has a long and
What motivates Thérèse in this scene?
What do we learn about her as a character?
How does the actor, Elizabeth Nabben, use her expressive skills to explore this moment?
How do you feel about the character, Thérèse in this scene?
The character of Grivet says, ‘A person of good character will always know a person of bad
character and the criminal will always pay’.
How does this belief prove false within the story?
What are good characteristics and what are bad?
Consider the character of Laurent
What motivates him to begin an affair with Thérèse?
How do you feel about him as the play progresses?
Which characters did you feel sympathy or empathy for? Did any characters unnerve or disturb
you? Discuss and evaluate how the actors used their expressive skills to convey these qualities.
Use of language - spoken and non-verbal
In the opening scene, when Thérèse first speaks, she has fairly much been ignored up to that
point. However, it is worth watching her for the actor’s use of non-verbal language
Analyse the actor’s expressive skills in this very first scene
How does non-verbal language impact on the scene?
Continue your exploration of Thérèse’s character and the actor’s use of expressive skills
across to the first domino scene
Consider the character of Mme Raquin later in the play, after her stroke. She is only able to use
Analyse and evaluate how the actor uses her eyes, stillness and silence to enable the
character to be present
Evaluate the effectiveness of the choices made by the actor and the director for these
Consider the use of accent in the production.
Do the actors in fact use accents?
If not, how do they use language and their voice to convey the time and era of the play?
In the rehearsal room, director Gary Abrahams discussed with the actors ways to maintain a
vocal quality that established the world without using a specific accent. He suggested they use a
clear and downward pitch at end of sentences, ‘like a peg going into the ground’
Analyse the use of verbal language in this production
Evaluate the effectiveness of Australian actors playing French characters from the 1860s
The playing space at Theatre Works is an end-on space with a raked auditorium
Discuss the playing space and its relationship to the audience
What type of actor/audience relationships were established by the performers?
Did you feel you were observing?
Were you directly addressed?
Was there a fourth wall?
Did you encounter sight line issues?
How significant was your position in the auditorium to your sense of actor/audience
How did the use of space by the actors and the set design create specific actor/audience
Stagecraft – set, properties, costume, make-up, hair, sound and music
Set Design (Jacob Battista)
The setting is an upstairs apartment with a sitting room, a bedroom and suggested off stage
Analyse how the set design suggested or created a sense of 1860s Paris.
Analyse and evaluate how the set design reflected the theatrical styles of the play
How did the set design provide the actors with a space to create their characters?
What were essential set pieces? What were excessive?
What set pieces were practical? What pieces were decorative?
A key scene in the production is the boating excursion and the murder of Camille
How is an outdoor water setting created within this set design?
Analyse and evaluate the effectiveness of that choice
There are many props in this production including chairs, footstools, suitcases, cups, goblets,
candlesticks, walking canes, umbrellas, dominos, handbags etc.
Analyse and discuss the relationship of certain props with particular characters
How did particular props assist in establishing characters?
Evaluate the choice of props and how they contributed to the world of the play
Evaluate how the props contributed to the establishment of particular characters eg. The
cane of Michoud, the umbrella of Grivet.
Painting and art play a key role in Thérèse Raquin.
How do the set design and the properties reflect the idea of art and the artist?
Overall, were there particular properties that became symbolic within the production? Why?
Costume (Chloe Greaves)
The costume design is a key feature of the design for this production. It is particularly crucial to
enabling the actors to inhabit their characters.
Select two characters and analyse their costume in detail – hats, gloves, gowns, cloaks,
coats, neckties, boots, jewellery etc
Consider the silhouette, colour, and texture of the costumes andhow it reflects their
How do the costumes enhance belief in these characters?
Do these characters have different or contrasting costumes?
What do the different costumes say about the characters?
How does costume design relate to some of the central themes in the production of
How does costume represent class or status?
How does costume impact on the actor’s capacity to move in the space?
Hair and Makeup
Similarly, hair and make-up reflects the period of the production.
How does the hair and make-up design reflect the era and period?
How does the hair and make-up reflect the class and status of particular characters?
‘Women are trapped in small spaces with cages around them, via their ridiculous costumes, like
spinning tops in a room that have to keep manoeuvring around it’ – director, Gary Abrahams
Analyse and discuss this comment by the director
Do you agree with this statement?
Sound and music (Christopher de Groot)
This production of Thérèse Raquin has an especially composed and performed music/sound
design based on classical and period music
Discuss the use of music in the production
What mood and tone did it establish?
How did it work aesthetically? How did it work in a functional way?
What particular music or sounds do you recall and why?
Was music linked to characters?
Was music or sound used symbolically? Give examples
Themes and ideas – intended meaning
Zola stated that one of the purposes of writing Thérèse Raquin was ‘to study two very different
protagonists under different forms of duress’
Discuss this comment
Was this idea apparent in the production? How?
Crime, class, gender roles, repressed sexuality, revenge, familial love, loyalty are some of the
themes explored in the play.
Discuss how each of these was represented
What key scenes can you recall – the domino game, the first moment of the affair, the
death of Camille, the stroke that Mme Raquin suffers, the madness of Laurent and
Discuss whether certain characters were motivated by one or more of these ideas
What other themes and ideas do you think the play explores?
Beyond exploring Thérèse Raquin for performance analysis, consider how your study of the play
may contribute to your understanding of the Stagecraft Examination for Unit 4. For example,
recall how the actor, Elizabeth Nabben, performed the monologue below. Recall the stagecraft
that supported that monologue – set, properties, costumes, sound and music.
What aspects of the design elements would you retain for the performed monologue?
What aspects of the design elements would you choose to use as a design presentation?
THÉRÈSE (Act Two, Scene 5)
You can’t imagine how many nights I have been forced to sleep next to him. He’s always damp. Clammy.
His fingers feel like clay. And his smell. Like clothes that never dry properly. He stinks. I’ve had to share
everything with him. Ever since I was a child. My bed. My food. His medicine! He won’t ever take anything
unless I take it first. It never occurred to them that these same potions that might save Camille could kill
me! They have stolen my life.
My mother was an Algerian princess. I know it. I feel it, here, in my blood. As a child I dreamed of
wandering the roads, barefoot in the dust. In my heart I grew up crossing desserts. Instead my father gave
me to them. Stole me away across an ocean to be shut up in a room in Vernon with a sick little boy
gasping for breath. Crouching by the fire like an idiot watching his herbs boil, making sure it didn’t get too
smoky, that his sick towels didn’t catch fire. His little cat. His little cat sitting by the fire.
Damn him. Damn him to hell! I was given a husband no different to the sick little boy I was forced to share
a bed with as a child. He infects everything! But you... Your face red with life. You in my rooms, you on my
chairs, your lips on my cups and glasses. Whenever you are near my nerves burn. My skin hums. I wait
every day for you to come back so that I can hum again. And when you’re not here I sit and breathe you in.
I sit in the chair you sat in. Put my lips against the glass you drank from. Touch the places on the floor
where you kneeled. I am so ashamed. I’m a coward.
About Dirty Pretty Theatre
Dirty Pretty Theatre is an independent theatre company that was formed in 2010 by creator Gary
Abrahams in order to produce and present the original work “Acts of Deceit (Between Strangers
in a Room)” at La Mama Courthouse for the 2010 Midsummer Festival. In July of the same year
key members of the company re-formed to present “Something Natural But Very Childish”, again
at La Mama. Both productions were critically and publicly well received garnering rave reviews
resulting in sell out seasons. Both works were nominated for several Green Room Awards in
2010, including best production, best new work, best ensemble, winning director Gary
Abrahams the award for Best Director in the independent category. The company went on hiatus
after that as members pursued other projects and Gary focussed on working within established
companies. In early 2014 Dirty Pretty Theatre reformed again under the creative leadership of
Gary Abrahams for the production of “The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant” by Reiner Werner
Fassbinder presented at Theatre Works as part of the 2014 Midsumma Festival. “Therese
Raquin” is Dirty Pretty Theatre’s fourth show and continues their exploration of adapting existing
material for the Australian stage. The creatives involved with the company change from project
to project, though many creatives have worked on several Dirty Pretty Theatre shows.
About Theatre Works
Theatre Works is a creative hub in the heart of St Kilda. We support visionary artists, nurture the
development of ideas and provide space for bold artistic adventures. We connect to diverse
communities through live performances and participatory experiences that disturb, pleasure,
provoke and entertain.
Theatre Works aims to:
Support artists at all stages of artistic exploration, from initial idea through to realisation
Work in partnership with venues, festivals and producers to present the best local,
national and international small to medium scale performances
Develop deep and sustained relationships with artists who are bringing new stories to the
stage and rigorously investigating form
Develop innovative and varied ways in which audiences can engage with performance
and performance making processes
For more information: www.theatreworks.org.au
These resources were created by:
Arts Education Consultants