Tuesday, 26 March 2019

REVIEW: Creditors - Theatre By The Lake - Keswick

An early review of Joe Orton’s 'Entertaining Mr. Sloane' was headlined ‘Three repulsive folk. Well acted’. On the surface, at least, the same heading might apply to Strindberg’s 'Creditors', here revived by Theatre By The Lake in Howard Brenton’s recent and very convincing adaptation.

Strindberg was a wildly inconsistent dramatist, prone to using the drama as a vehicle for working out his own hang-ups, and there’s probably a good reason that only four (at most) of his plays receive productions outside his native Sweden. Another factor to be taken into account is his tendentious view of the battle of the sexes, which today would invite the charge of misogyny. But in a production as carefully nuanced as Tom Littler’s, we see the three protagonists as hopelessly damaged yet relatable and so we can become involved and interested in their fate - so much so, that by the end, we feel they’re all people we know and care about.

Adolf, a sculptor and Tekla, an author, have been married for ten years: it is her second marriage and his first. Although ostensibly happy, Adolf, an invalid, feels anguish over the level of his dependency on the carefree, somewhat amoral Tekla and confesses this to a new friend he has made on holiday, Gustaf, a lecturer who - unbeknownst to Adolf - is Tekla’s first husband. As Adolf enlarges upon his confessions, Gustaf takes the opportunity to undermine him - suggesting that he is on the verge of epilepsy and that, for his own good, he should refrain from sexual relations with Tekla for a period of ‘at lest six months’. He has an agenda, of course, but it is not revealed until his own engineered encounter with Tekla results in tragedy.

This three-handed drama, played without an interval, gathers incremental force during its ninety minutes, from its deceptively tranquil beginning to its torrid, if slightly contrived, conclusion. The gradual revelation of Adolf’s (James Sheldon) weakness and his conflicted feelings for Tekla are skilfully teased out by David Sturzaker’s Machiavellian Gustaf, who exploits the younger man’s emotional issues to drive a wedge between him and his wife. With the appearance of Dorothea Myer-Bennett’s Tekla, a very recognisable type of energy vampire, the tension rises up a notch and director and actors achieve a little miracle of concision when Gustaf and Tekla meet again, go over their history and (very briefly but fatally) rekindle their old desire for each other. It’s the kind of moment that may look unconvincing on the page but can be pulled off when acted with the kind of conviction and verisimilitude it was here. Myer-Bennett, in particular, managed to evoke sympathy as well as abhorrence in a fiendishly difficult role.

Louie Whitemore has created a handsome set, where the calm ivory-white of the walls and furniture contrasts sharply with the emotional turbulence of the characters, and the sound design (Max Pappenheim) helped us to imagine the seaside resort world outside, with its boat-horns and seabird cries. With Adolf’s mobility restricted for much of the play (for the first forty minutes he is confined to his work-desk, stage rigth), the action was a little too concentrated to one side of the studio stage, so the ‘explosion’ of the action once Tekla arrived made a welcome change to a somewhat static picture. Johanna Town’s lighting was appropriately subdued.

Reviewer - Richard Ely
on - 25/3/19

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