I was relatively unfamiliar with Strindberg’s lesser known play Creditors, I only knew that the sensational Anna Chancellor had starred at the Donmar Warehouse in Alan Rickman’s production (can’t believe I missed that one!) back in 2008. So I was interested to catch it at the Brockley Jack Studio – who recently took home the deserved title of ‘Most Welcoming Theatre in South East London’ at the OffWestEnd Theatre Awards.
Directed by Ross Drury, in a new version by Neil Smith, he revives this dark tragicomedy that revolves around 3 central characters and portrays the destruction that jealousy and revenge can do.
The action is set in a stark hotel room, Adolph (Tice Oakfied), a boyish floppy haired artist is sculpting a figure when he is joined by a new friend Gustav (Paul Trussell). Clearly of fragile mind, Gustav slowly begins to poison him against his wife, filling his head with thoughts of betrayal and infidelity and convinces him she is stealing his soul and he is losing himself to her. He plays on his vulnerabilities in scenes not to dissimilar from Iago in Othello and as Adolph’s mental state begins to unravel, akin to the Moor, you sense an impending violent end.
His wife, Tekla (Rachel Heaton), is a successful novelist and full of sexual prowess. When she returns from a week away with work, Adolph pushes her for answers of what she’s been up to whilst she’s been away in the company of young actors. Gustav is hiding in the bathroom ready to pounce the moment Adolph gets her to confess. His main insecurity is her ex-husband whom he stole Tekla from, and he subsequently became transformed into a character in one of her ‘vampire novels’, she ridiculed him and it becomes apparent that in fact Gustav is her ex; now a creditor, come to claim what he feels he is rightfully owed.
This realisation perhaps lost some of its shock factor due to Adolph’s surfacing schizophrenic behaviour, you began to wonder whether Gustav was a figment of his imagination and the tale would take an exciting twist. Instead it was a bit of an anti-climax which was reinforced by Trussell and Heaton’s stilted onstage relationship. It felt a touch implausible that such a sassy, powerful woman would fall for a man a little un-sparkling, especially in his attempt to seduce her at the end.
On the other hand, Oakfield’s portrayal as the credulous artist really captures a struggling man who is faced with his own internal demons, at times he provides a much needed comic element to lighten the heavy drama. However the real star is Heaton as Tekla, a tour-de force who faces her own insecurities of growing old and losing her beauty. Her scenes with Oakfield as she asserts her sexuality were a little hard to watch, their little nicknames and cat purring ‘Pussy wants little one’… were uncomfortable, especially when you’re watching with your brother!
My main qualm with this production lies in its intensity, in fact at times it’s so intense it makes it difficult to relate to any of the characters and get a grasp of what’s going on. There’s an underlying economic element with brief mention and sound bites of an economy collapse and savagery on the streets, bankers are being murdered and that felt out of place and not necessary, there was enough drama going on in the hotel room.
Leah Sams’ set design, as always at the Brockley Jack, is incredibly strong and professional for an off-West End theatre. The stark hotel flooring and essence of an artist studio provides an uncluttered view to allow the dark drama to unfold without any distractions.
Overall this production of Creditors is an intense watch which sadly feels a little over complicated at times. Perhaps it’s down to my unfamiliarity with Strindberg’s work, but it’s worth the watch alone for Rachel Heaton’s captivating performance.
Reviewed by Becky Usher
Photo: Andreas Grieger
Creditors runs until 11th April at the Brockley Jack Studio.