Carnality, cruelty and corsets come to Theatre Works in the form of Émile Zola’s gothic horror, Thérèse Raquin. This world premiere adaptation is written and directed by Gary Abrahams (after Emile Zola)  Abrahams is, of course,  an award-winning theatre director and writer with a masters in adaptation from the Victorian College of the Arts.

"It's an adaptation of an excellent 19th century book and play by Émile Zola that was one of the first pieces of French naturalism," explains actor  Paul Blenheim." Zola was investigating how the disposition of a person could determine their behaviour in a given circumstance." The work caused great controversy when first published in 1867 –  labelled as “obscene” by many – it remains a superb examination of corrupted morals in its telling of murderous star-crossed lovers. Themes like murder, adultery, guilt, egotism, lust and violence still resonate with, Blenheim says, most contemporary news outlets indicating that these things are still the flavour of the month.

"In the play, the characters' temperaments and circumstances are clear and we can identify with them, even if they are a little grotesque," says Blenheim. "But the actions they eventually take will hopefully leave audiences questioning their initial perceptions of these seemingly harmless characters in a moral context rather than a purely fatalistic one."

Blenheim plays Camille Raquin who he describes as clammy with a desire to win at dominoes. "He's a mummy's boy who's married to his cousin. He just does what he knows and he is ultimately innocent. His demise is the catalyst for the psychological and physical downfall of the other characters. He's the type of character that you love to hate…. until something gruesome happens to him and you go, 'well, that was a bit unnecessary, he wasn't that bad… was he?'"

Blenheim is a graduate of the VCA and brings a wealth of experience to the project. He has recently appeared in The Motion of Light in Water (Elbow Room/ Hothouse/Theatreworks), Arden V Arden (Hayloft Project), The Sovereign Wife (Sisters Grimm/MTC Neon), Salome (Little One's/Malthouse helium), Psycho Beach Party (Little Ones), Wrecking (Tamarama Rock Surfers), Eight (Exhibit A Theatre), Rhapsody (Whale Chorus/Performance Space/ Underbelly Arts), 22 Short Plays (MKA) and Daniel Schlusser's 'The Hollow' at VCA. Paul will also appear in Cut Lunch's production of Bent and the Little Ones production of The House of Yes, both at Theatre Works later this year.

Blenheim was Abrahams first choice sending him the script early and sealing the deal. Blenheim describes director Abrahams as having a keen eye for detail and a passion for theatre that inspires actors to work as hard as they can to create something great. "I've been a fan of his work for a long time and he has done a beautiful job on this script so it's a pleasure to be working with him." 

"Every day the rehearsal room presents new challenges," says Blenheim, " but if you've got a talented group of people who can negotiate and problem-solve effectively then rehearsal can be a healthy and productive kind of challenging. We have an excellent cast so it's been a joy so far. Ask this question again in 2 weeks – I'll probably have had a nervous breakdown over syntax and the director will have replaced me with CGI."

It is Zola's goal to  study temperaments and not characters and to bring to light the animalistic side of humanity as well as the downright ugly.  Abrahams’ new adaptation promises to reinvigorate the text’s shocking power as well as re-create the visual splendour of 1800s Paris. The creation of a terrifying mood will be created with an original piano composition performed live by Christopher De Groot.

14 – 30 August
www.theatreworks.org.au

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