Photo by Joan Marcus

It seems there are a handful of purist critics out there who are determined to see high calibre movie stars fall flat on their noses after bravely venturing to tread the boards either in London's West End or on Broadway. In defiance of this trend I have decided to name the Roundabout Theatre Company's production of Thérèse Raquin our "Show of the Week." This is your final chance to catch Olivier Award and two-time Oscar nominee Keira Knightley in her Broadway debut at Studio 54.

I sadly missed Ms. Knightley's West End debut in the 2009 production of The Misanthrope, starring alongside Damian Lewis, at the Comedy Theatre. Her outing earned her an Olivier Award nomination for Best Performance in a Supporting Role. Fast forward two years later, however, and she returns to the same theatre to star in The Children's Hour alongside Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss, and this time I managed to see it. I am pleased to say I was heartily impressed with Ms. Knightley's performance. She played to her strengths with her portrayal of Karen Wright in Lillian Hellman's bleak but stirring drama, ultimately and honestly revealing the emotional destruction caused by the insinuation of a lesbian affair in the early 19th century.

In this Roundabout Theatre Company production, Knightley's title character inevitably falls down a similar route of self-destruction through her loneliness, lust, betrayal and soul-devouring guilt. French writer Émile Zola's play Thérèse Raquin (adapted from his 1867 novel) was first performed in 1873. Over 140 years later, although social ettiquette has evolved, the themes in this moving drama remain timeless. Helen Edmunson's adaptation allows the characters to speak just as powerfully with their actions and their silent interactions as with their dialogue. Indeed through much of the first act, our insights into Thérèse's mindset rely on her contemplative staring and body language.

My hat goes off to scenic designer Beowulff Boritt for creating the captive, claustrophobic set in which the family tale unravels. The dark walls and close quarters perfectly embody the play's theme of imprisonment. Having an actual river on stage, on which Thérèse, Camille and Laurent row out to seal their fate, undoubtedly gives that needed spectacle to a Broadway production. There are also some terrific performances from the likes of Judith Light, Matt Ryan and Gabriel Ebert not to be missed.

Yes, the play does become a dark, stifling and smothering affair into the second act. But that isn't to say that it's not an overall entertaining experience and Keira Knightley is more than capable of delivering a performance that binds us to Thérèse's tragic course. Merci beaucoup, I say!

Click here for tickets to Thérèse Raquin, which is booking through to 3 January 2016 at Broadway's Studio 54.

- by Tom Millward

Photo by Joan Marcus
Keira Knightley & Judith Light in Thérèse Raquin
More production photos