Adultery and cruelty and the consequences of such horrible acts are nothing new, and they were certainly an issue no one wanted to face when Emile Zola’s novel Therese Raquin was published back in 1867. Melbourne based director Gary Abraham has painstakingly adapted this harsh story for the stage, and we got to have a chat with him about his latest show.
How did you get involved in with Therese Raquin? It would have been a very exciting opportunity for you.
How it came about when I was working with Simon Phillips, and assisting him. We got talking about future projects and the novel Therese Raquin is based on came up and he said he always wanted to do it, but never saw a satisfying stage adaptation of it. I always wanted to do it, so he commissioned me to do a draft. It originally never got picked up for a variety of reasons, but that’s how the project began. But I work in adaptations, I did my masters in adaptations. I love the world the play created, both the themes and images in the novel, so I was quite excited to do this project.
How would you describe Therese Raquin in your own words?
It’s about a young woman named Therese who was abandoned by her dad at a young age. She grew up talking care of her sick cousin and married him. They move to Paris, and met Laurent and they had an affair. They attempt to kill her husband to be free of him. They do, and then all hell breaks loose. Becomes a shit fight and suffers horribly. I would title it as a romantic tragic gothic horror.
Was it difficult to adapt a 19th century novel into a 21st century play? I imagine it would have been quite a task adapting a novel for the stage.
Though the novel is classic, the play is written now and has a contemporary feel to it. It’s very much the vernacular of now. I spoke about doing an updated version and set it in contemporary times, but felt it should be set in 1860. Something about taking it into a completely different world, social manners are different, gave it an unique feel, all the while showing that human nature has never changed.
I suppose the fact people never change will always be a theme writers can play upon. It’s like that old saying, “Don’t cut another man’s lunch”.
Yes, for sure. I read an article in the Herald Sun the other day about how a guy was stabbed in Brunswick by his wife and her lover. This sort of thing still happens today.
On that note, the novel was considered controversial back in its day. Do you feel the story will still be able to shock its audience now?
Good question. I think it will absolutely try to shock them, but shocking for a different reason. It was shocking then because plays were fantasy, romantic love affairs and adventure tales. But this play is about a working class play and in a working class environment, and the everyday in its ugliness and that’s what shocked people at the time. People aren’t shocked by that now. But what we can get shocked by is the emotional intestity of the characters and how brutual their suffering is on an emotional and psychological level. No one in Melbourne does melodrama and what makes it a risky production.
I suppose having it set in 1860 gives the play a more theatrical feel to it, in that it takes the audience to a whole other world away from their own.
How would you compare directing Terese Raquin to directing your previous shows?
Hopefully it’s an advancement. Each of them are different. The authors intentions and mine are mutual, and we converse through material. I don’t know how it compares to the others. Themes like falsity of love and how people lie to each other and how they can manipulate people through love, or what they call love, are an occurring theme in my work. I do have a negative view on love admittedly.
How are you finding working for Red Stitch? They’re a very interesting theatre company.
I’ve been with them for a number of years now. They’re a wonderful company. They have no funding, so it’s good for people working purely for passion. This year’s when I come back to my work as an independent maker. I’ve learn a lot of about theatre through them.
What has this experience been like for the actors?
Absolutely grueling. They’re a fantastic cast, a lot of them are older actors, the oldest being 78 years old. The material is heavy, and requires a lot of stamina from the actors. But hopefully it’s kind of rewarding for them to dress up, and explore dark emotions. I think it’s been satisfying, though the girls have to wear tight corsets and that takes its tole on them.
Originally published here at milkbarmag.com on Monday 11 August 2014