This is one of those plays that is very much of its time and yet has much contemporary relevance. Creditors has all of its action in one hotel room, where Adolf (James Sheldon) and Gustaf (David Sturzaker), another hotel guest staying in the same establishment, are in conversation – Adolf’s wife, Tekla (Dorothea Myer-Bennett) enters the room sometime later. Adolf and Gustav’s conversation gets rather too personal, considering these are people who have apparently just met recently. All becomes crystal clear by the end (to the point where Tekla’s ‘eureka moment’, spoken out loud, feels a little pedantic).
Some minor characters are dispensed with in this adaptation, keeping proceedings limited to just three people. Set in the present day – by which I mean the ‘present day’ of the show’s Copenhagen premiere in 1889 – the power play between Gustaf and Tekla is an intriguing one, and one for which Adolf pays a very, very hefty price. Not that the other two come away completely undamaged – far from it. I found them all to be dislikeable, but I think if I had any sympathy at all for any of them, Adolf would appear (at least to me) to have been manipulated the most.
Then again, there’s something Darwinian about this story – the strongest come out on top, and it may not be fair, and it may or may not be right, but it’s just the way it is. By modern standards, some of the psychology of the play may be a little rudimentary. The production is highly naturalistic, partly because the play has never been an abstract piece of theatre anyway, but because the characters speak as they would in a hotel room, which fits the studio space of the Jermyn Street Theatre well, without having to project to the back rows of the upper circle. Indeed, the only indication that the dialogue is ‘too loud’ is when the dialogue itself declares it to be so, ostensibly because other hotel guests might find reason to complain about noise levels coming from the room.
The occasional audible gasp from some members of the audience confirms the misogyny not so much of the play but of the play’s era, though I would argue that this is a play about the destructive power of words more widely, as opposed to being about misogyny. It’s worth pointing out that Tekla is portrayed as shrewd, intelligent and articulate. The sound design (Max Pappenheim) is commendable – never intrusive, the sound effects add appropriate touches to the production. The hotel room feels light and airy, with a double door stage right leading to a veranda (frankly, if this were an actual hotel, I wouldn’t mind staying there), an increasingly noticeable contrast to the ever-darker narrative, where Tekla’s smiles and kisses soon enough turn into open weeping.
If aspects of the play were predictable, the ending was surprising to say the least. And with not a single blackout, the action just never stops. The pace varies, as it would when a production seeks to meet the challenge of successfully retaining an audience’s attention for almost an hour and a half (this production wouldn’t work with an interval – the intensity would be lost and would be difficult if not impossible to fully recover quickly at the start of a second act). It’s sometimes complex, sometimes hard to watch, but this is nonetheless a deep and richly nuanced production.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Adolph, a young artist, is deeply in love with his new wife Tekla. She’s intelligent, educated, and experienced. He loves her independence and sophistication. Sometimes he worries he’s not her equal. But a chance meeting with a suave stranger in a seaside hotel shakes Adolph’s devotion to the core.
Passionate, dangerously funny, and enduringly perceptive, Creditors is a wickedly enjoyable black comedy, regarded by Strindberg as his masterpiece. It runs in repertory with Miss Julie.
Dorothea Myer-Bennett, James Sheldon, David Sturzaker.
By August Strindberg in a new version by Howard Brenton.
Directed by Tom Littler
Set and costume design by Louie Whitemore
Lighting by Johanna Town
Sound by Max Pappenheim
A co-production with Theatre by the Lake