First published in The Times, Thursday May 3 2018
August Strindberg wrote Creditors in 1888 as part of the creative torrent that also produced his most famous work, Miss Julie. Both plays exhibit the visceral dialogue and intense exploration of shifts in power within relationships for which the prolific and influential Swedish playwright is known, while also giving vent to his mordant and rather contradictory view of women. He was known to refer to Siri von Essen, the first of his three wives, as “the vampire”, though he also maintained that “the presence of women tends to elevate men”.
In fact, Tekla, the female protagonist of Creditors, emerges as the most fully rounded human being in David Greig’s version of the play, while all three characters are revealed at various points as emotional bloodsuckers.
Pic: Peter Dibdin
In the elaborately written opening scene of this enjoyable new production, directed by Stewart Laing for the Lyceum, we watch as Gustav (Stuart McQuarrie), the enigmatic stranger and new friend of Adolph (Edward Franklin), toys with his young acquaintance like a cat with a mouse, gradually poisoning the besotted sculptor’s mind against his worldly novelist wife. Adolph, played by Franklin with childlike ardour, appears to diminish in size and stature as his vivacity and assurance are sucked away from him.
Pic: Peter Dibdin
In the light of Gustav’s venomous primer, it comes almost as a shock to discover that Tekla – as played by Adura Onashile in three vibrant dimensions – is warm, witty and caring, if uncompromising and not a little manipulative. We are made to wait for Onashile’s arrival but she brings great vitality to the scenes that follow. Her skill and subtlety (as well as Gustav’s quiet menace) are shown off to hypnotic effect in her two-hander with McQuarrie, in which Laing uses live film to show us the encounter both in close-up and from the eavesdropper Adolph’s point of view. The effect is unnerving, the stark black-and-white photography and close framing of faces recalling images from work by that other great Swedish artist, Ingmar Bergman.
Throughout, Laing (who also designs the cartoon-perfect lakeside scenery) creates a winning balance between melodrama and dark comedy, giving due weight to the humour in Greig’s version. Rarely has a play about misogyny, hatred and revenge been so entertaining.