Charlotte Emmerson's last West End outing saw her writhing around on the floor with her co-star and murdering her husband in The Postman Always Rings Twice. It's something she's making a habit of, as Zola's
Thérèse Raquin, adapted by Nicholas Wright, sees her writhing and killing again. Matthew Amer attended the press night at the National's Lyttelton theatre.
Emmerson plays the eponymous Thérèse; a woman stuck in a marriage to a man, Camille, who thoroughly bores her. For the first 10 minutes of the performance she sits statue-still, head in hand, her face a picture of vacancy, as her husband's portrait is painted by his friend Laurent. When the room empties, the truth behind Laurent and Thérèse's relationship is revealed as hands go everywhere, the protagonists take it in turn to offer themselves then withdraw, and the passion is played out. If only they could be married; for that to happen the sickly Camille would have to meet an unhappy end…
But, though murderers may sometimes get away with it in the eyes of the law, as pointed out by frequent visitor Monsieur Michaud (Michael Culkin), their acts never let them go unpunished. And once the object of their desire is freely available to them, the price they paid for each other never allows them to enjoy the reward.
Emmerson's performance as the embittered and entrapped wife sees her switching effortlessly between controlled, repressed and often vacant, in the company of Camille and the too regular visitors to the marital home – itself a grey, domineering room of nothingness – and unleashing the animalism of her attraction to Laurent and her torment following her husband's death. When she washes following the tragic boat trip, Emmerson exposes the sensual, sexual Thérèse, while echoes of Lady Macbeth lurk in the shadows.
Ben Daniels's Laurent is everything that Patrick Kennedy's Camille is not. While Laurent is burly, manly and artistic, Camille is childlike in nature and instantly irritating. When Laurent spent his childhood pocket money on penknives, Camille bought pastries.
Frankly, it's not hard to see why Thérèse takes the steps she does. She's trapped in a humdrum existence where every Thursday without fail she is joined by Mark Hadfield's hilariously regimented and ritualised Monsieur Grivet – whose umbrella must always be placed in the correct position – and Michael Culkin's wonderfully self-aggrandising Monsieur Michaud. Oh, and she lives with her mother-in-law (Judy Parfitt), who doesn't mind what happens as long as she is happy and has someone to look after her.
Marianne Elliott's direction blends a naturalistic take on the play with flourishes of a more fantastical nature, while Neil Austin's lighting is always a subtle reflection of the mood: a single lamp for the introspective washing scene; a fire-lit red wash in the aftermath of murder.