One of the leading pioneers of naturalistic drama at the end of the 19th century, August Strindberg focused on the raw power dynamics of sexual relationships between men and women. Howard Brenton’s direct new version of Creditors (playing in repertory with a revival of his successful version of Strindberg’s contemporaneous Miss Julie) is a compelling account of the battle of the sexes.
Set in a Swedish seaside hotel in summer, Creditors opens with neurotic artist Adolf confiding his insecurities about his absent wife Tekla to the mysterious Gustaf. ‘A man of the world’, Gustaf seems to have ulterior motives in encouraging Adolf to stand up to Tekla, whom Adolf loves but fears may be unfaithful. When Tekla — a successful writer who made her name with a novel ridiculing the ‘idiocy’ of her first husband — returns, she finds Adolf is cool towards her.
Strindberg described his play as a ‘tragicomedy’, and Brenton certainly teases the maximum amount of ironic humour from the psychosexual game-playing — even if it has a savagely primal edge. Sometimes the comedy threatens to undermine the play’s intensity, but the mood darkens later on.
A compact 80 minutes, the show is deftly handled in the intimate Jermyn Street Theatre by its Artistic Director Tom Littler, who also directed Brenton’s version of Strindberg’s Dances of Death and his biographical play about the Swedish playwright, The Blinding Light.
James Sheldon is an impressionable, twitchy Adolf, whose crutches suggest someone emotionally crippled. David Sturzaker’s deliciously disingenuous and suave Gustaf turns out to be eaten up with misogynistic anger. And Dorothea Myer-Bennett does well as the self-confident, flirtatious Tekla whose independence is undermined by controlling male jealousy.
Creditors, Jermyn Street Theatre, 16b Jermyn Street, SW1Y 6ST. Tickets £30, until 1 June 2019 (in repertory with Miss Julie).
Last Updated 01 May 2019