Donmar Warehouse, London WC2
Opened 30 September, 2008

Nineteenth-century Swedish playwright August Strindberg was and is notorious as a misogynist. On this outing, the two men in his triangular 1889 drama Creditors seem at least as hateful; how much of this is due to the passage of time, to David Greig’s choices in his new version of the text and/or to Alan Rickman’s direction is moot. The introduction to an earlier edition of the play describes painter-turned-sculptor Adolph as “the victim of a fate stronger than himself” and university professor Gustav as “the conqueror of adverse and humiliating circumstances”, but here they seem respectively a febrile paranoid and an Iago figure. In fact, merge Othello with Cassio and Roderigo, assume that Desdemona is guilty as hell and this could be a distillation of the Shakespeare drama so sensationally staged at this address a year ago.
In the first of the three two-handed scenes, we see Adolph expressing his gratitude to his new friend for re-focusing his artistic impulses. As the scene progresses, however, it becomes apparent that what Gustav is really doing is fuelling Adolph’s insecurities about his older, previously-married novelist wife. The strife between the couple is then presented on the latter’s return from a business trip to the hotel where all three are staying, and which by no coincidence was also the venue of her first honeymoon; after Adolph storms out, it comes as no surprise whatever to find Tekla identifying the newly re-entered Gustav as her first husband.
Anna Chancellor finds a coherent line through Tekla’s simmering broth of domineering nannying, brazen taunting, weakness of resolve, intellectual fire and finally defiant integrity... no mean feat, as you can imagine. Tom Burke’s Adolph is as physically ravaged as he is psychologically, the gaze of his sunken eyes fixed on his interlocutors but unable to bore into them. As Gustav, Owen Teale at first feels as if he is merely mouthing his lines. However, this is not the actor taking it easy, but the character biding his time until he can begin to work his Mephistophelean spell upon first Adolph and then Tekla; by the time his full fury and exultation are unleashed in the final scene, Teale is incandescent. The title refers to artistic, spiritual and moral debts owed by each to the others, and brought to account in the most brutal way during these 90 minutes.
Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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