29 November 2006

I went to the matinee of Therese Raquin yesterday at the NT's Lyttleton and suffered the claustrophobia and anxiety and paranoia of that story all over again - I read it just a few months ago. What Nicholas Wright brings to this horrible, forensic depiction of human appetites and miseries is a grim sense of humour. It's there in the Zola I think, perhaps partly lost in translation?, you Francophones out there might know.
Julian Barnes has written an absorbing piece about Therese, and he says that in his own adaptation of the book Zola introduced "a lightening humour". He also makes the very good point that while surgical dissections of character are Zola the novelist's stock in trade, his instincts as a dramatist were good enough to know that when you put a truthful character out on stage, in the flesh, it's practically impossible to stop an audience from feeling sympathy for them. Their suffering is contagious, even if deserved. In this new version for sure, the story gains a great deal from the careful attention to and mockery of the secondary characters. Nicholas Wright scripts them as monsters of monotony and mundanity, completely insensible to the horror surrounding them, with the effect of making the murderers seem heroic, and their self-destruction tragic. Zola the novelist piles disdain on Laurent's appetites for food, sex and sleep, and tears them from him one by one. The play looks on him more kindly . In Ben Daniel's fantastic performance he is a Lawrentian bull, crashing around in search of he knows not what. Charlotte Emmerson's Therese is enough to drive any man mad - smouldering petulance, magnetic in her misery. Susannah Clapp in the Observer writes very well about Marianne Elliott's direction (cracking) and Hildegard Bechtler's design (ditto).

Then it was home to my happy family, thank goodness! Before bouncing out again to the Arcola to see my pal Annie in Keith Dewhurst's play King Arthur. She was cool, as ever. Playing a peasant in ancient Britain whom Arthur recognises from forty years ago - in another life she was 'my Lady Julia', a highborn Roman in Britain, later captured by a tribe, enslaved but unbowed. The play is engagingly batty - Annie had a couple of other tiny roles, including a galloping signpost.

Then on the 106 on the way home, a woman gets on - bottle blonde, puffa jacket, white jeans - carrying a life-size cut-out of Wonder Woman. Does she get on free?, she laughs.

Then getting off the bus at the junction my eyes meet those of a prostitute hovering opposite the pub in that unmistakeable way. There's a copy of Unprotected in my pocket, I'd been reading it on the journey.

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