A dingy apartment over a haberdashery shop in a poor part of Paris forms the backdrop to this domestic tragedy. Thérèse is trapped in a tedious marriage to her sickly cousin Camille, and is watched over by her oppressive mother-in-law. Their family friends, Grivet, an office supervisor, Michaud, a retired police inspector, and Suzanne, his niece, visit regularly and add to the sense of impoverished gentility. Thérèse embarks on a reckless affair with her husband’s childhood friend Laurent. In their desperation to be free, they commit a horrific crime. Though their friends remain oblivious, Thérèse and Laurent believe their guilt will be discovered and find themselves trapped in a waking nightmare.
Zola was a leading figure in the school of Naturalistic Fiction in France. Thérèse Raquin, published in 1867, was his first major novel. Some regarded it as pornographic because of its treatment of Therese’s sexuality. However, it fulfilled Zola’s aim of showing the dark underside of life in a frank and blunt way. Zola himself adapted the novel as a play and that work forms the basis of this adaptation by Nicholas Wright, whose later work His Dark Materials was presented by Next Stage at The Mission Theatre in 2007.