Review: Creditors

5 star rating
Splendid performances, a fine adaptation and first-rate direction combine in a definitive production of August Strindberg's scintillating, yet unsettling tragicomedy.
Creditors at Jermyn Street Theatre

Image: Jermyn Street Theatre



Closes here: Saturday 1 June 2019

Author:
August Strindberg in a new version by Howard Brenton

Composer:
Max Pappenheim

Director:
Tom Littler

Cast:

Dorothea Myer-Bennett - Tekla

James Sheldon - Adolf

David Sturzaker - Gustaf


Synopsis


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.


Background


August Strindberg is ranked alongside Chekhov and Ibsen as a master of theatrical realism.


Howard Brenton is a multi award-winning playwright whose plays have recently appeared at the National Theatre, Hampstead Theatre, and Shakespeare's Globe.


He has previously adapted Strindberg's Miss Julie and Dances of Death, and written a new play about Strindberg, The Blinding Light, all directed by Tom Littler.


Tom Littler is Artistic Director of Jermyn Street Theatre.


Creditors runs in repertory with Miss Julie, made by the same team with an overlapping cast.


On matinee days, marked below with a *, you can see both plays.


Creditors performances are on the following dates:


26, 27 (mat)*, 29, 30(mat)* April; 3, 4(mat)*, 7*, 8, 9, 11*, 13, 14(mat)*, 17, 18(mat)*, 21*, 22, 23, 25*, 27, 28(mat)*, 31 May; June 1(mat)*.


ActDrop reviews


Peter Brown

Performance date: Monday 29 April 2019
Review star rating image

Jermyn Street Theatre's 25th birthday year features two plays by August Strindberg - Creditors and Miss Julie - playing in rep, with both adapted by Howard Brenton.


Creditors is a three character piece with all the action taking place in the small parlour of a seaside hotel, described here in Louie Whitemore's effective design that leaves the time period for the setting suitably indeterminate.


The characters in Creditors actually only appear together in the last catastrophic moments where this tragicomedy reaches a dark and somewhat unexpected conclusion.


For the remainder of the play, only two of the characters are seen together at any given time, in different pairings.


First, we find artist Adolf with a friend, Gustaf.


Adolf's wife, Tekla, has gone away for a few days leaving him brooding, uncertain and despondent about their relationship.


Gustaf - a teacher of dead languages and a widower (he claims) - encourages and reinforces Adolf's insecurities in flagrantly misogynistic comments, ultimately concluding that Tekla has never loved Adolf at all.


On Tekla's impending arrival, Gustaf retreats leaving Adolf to tackle Tekla who turns out to be vivacious and, initially at least, loving towards her husband.


She soon recognises, however, that Adolf has changed while she's been away, deciding that someone has been planting unwelcome ideas in her spouse's malleable brain.


When Adolf storms out, Gustaf returns to confront Tekla and we discover the true nature of their relationship.


Each of the characters here uses the word "creditor" at different junctures in this cleverly written, fascinating but unsettling play.


Perhaps the notion of indebtedness was on Strindberg's mind when he wrote the play in 1888, since he was pretty-well broke at the time.


But in applying the concept of 'settling accounts' to personal relationships, Strindberg seems to use it apparently in terms of repayment of a debt, but also to mean the paying back of perceived emotional injuries or exacting revenge.


Howard Brenton's fine adaptation (from a literal translation by Agnes Broomé) and Tom Littler's intuitive, first-rate direction combine to deliver a definitive production with splendid performances to savour from a cast in terrific form.


James Sheldon's Adolf is a naive, insecure and plastic personality who is easily deluded - just the kind of man to readily succumb to the dastardly manipulations of David Sturzaker's embittered, devious and vengeful Gustaf.


Given the nature of the male personalities and Gustaf's unstoppable intentions, Dorothea Myer-Bennett's astute, intelligent and spirited Tekla finds herself caught without a means to escape the dire finality of the denouement.


Though the ending seems a touch extreme, Strindberg nevertheless forces us to consider the potentially disastrous nature of the ultimate reckoning when romantic entanglements go wrong - and who pays the 'debt'.


Regarded by the playwright as his "most mature work", Creditors still packs a scintillating dramatic punch, delivered in this admirable and unmissable production.


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