By August Strindberg. New translation by David Greig.
Directed by David Bell.
With Brett Cousins, Dion Mills & Kat Stewart
Set: Loren Whiffen
Costumes: Loren Whiffen
Lighting: Stelios Karagiannis
Sound: Brett Ludeman
Stage Manager: Olivia Crockford
August Strindberg casts a long shadow over the history of modern theatre. He wrote over 60 plays. His prolific output is less important to us (only a fraction of his work is still performed with any regularity) than his peculiarly modern psychology and the experiments with dramatic form it inspired.
To that end, critics tend to look to his later work (A Dream Play, The Ghost Sonata), which exploded dramatic unities, dug into the unconscious mind and laid foundations for European expressionist and surrealist theatre. This obscures his less drastic, but just as influential, take on naturalism.
Naturalism meant something quite different for Strindberg than for Ibsen. Strindberg despised character backgrounds, overt social context, and naturalism as a “slice of life”. For him, true naturalism was both smaller and larger.
In Creditors, he focuses with forensic intensity on the psychology on relationships; the ways intimates tear each other to shreds for reasons that remain opaque, insufficient, unexplained. In this it prefigures plays like O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night, or Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
A lame artist Adolph (Brett Cousins) is talking with disarming frankness to Gustav (Dion Mills) about his work and personal life. Gustav goes for the throat, weaving a potent, Iago-like spell from his victim’s insecurities. The target is Adolph’s marriage to Tekla (Kat Stewart); the weapons range from guilt – one of the “creditors” of the title – to patriarchal, social and performance anxiety.
Adolph becomes convinced that unless he confronts his wife and makes her submit to his will, he’ll succumb to epilepsy. (This nod to Othello would be a comic conceit, if psychosomatic illness weren’t so potentially devastating.) When Tekla arrives, their love games turn, through Adolph’s poisoned mind, into a bruising war of words. And Gustav isn’t done with them yet.
The acting is wonderfully dynamic and well-observed, especially between Mills and Cousins. Mills’ sardonic teacher is a hypnotic manipulator, peeling back the worldliness to reveal a sadistic fount of rage and pain. Expressive, sincere and gullible, emotions pass over Cousins’ face like fast-moving clouds across the sun.
Kat Stewart’s coquettish and fiercely independent Tekla is compelling with Cousins; pricked from casual sensuality to towering wrath, but seems dramatically off-kilter against Mills. It’s not in a major way, just in subtle timing and tone: they’re not throwing their darts at the same board.
It’s still a brutal tragicomedy. That’s another strangely modern thing about Strindberg. Tragicomedy here seems to mean more or less what it meant for Kafka or Beckett or Pinter. The comic parts of Creditors make the tragedy harder to escape: Strindberg holds a mirror to life’s distortions and refuses to look away.
Cameron Woodhead, The Age (22/11/10)
It has been said the people we hurt the most are the ones we love and nowhere is that more true than in the world of August Strindberg.
The Swedish playwright has been called a misogynist for the way his female protagonists act and are treated. But his male characters neither fare better nor are better.
Creditors, written in 1889, has been given a once over by David Greig. While still set in its original period, it’s relevant and accessible to contemporary audiences.
Adolph (Brett Cousins) is a fragile artist and Tekla (Kat Stewart) his writer wife, for whose return he waits while passing time with a mysterious friend Gustav (Dion Mills). As the conversation goes on, seed upon seed of doubt about Tekla’s affection and fidelity is sown until the forest becomes seemingly too impenetrable for to Adolph to navigate.
It’s soon clear Gustav has set in motion atria of thought that will have no choice but to crash in the most spectacular way. There will be no happy ending. Strindberg is far too much of a realist for that.
It’s an absolute treat to see the rightfully praised Stewart back at Red Stitch after star turns in Underbelly and Offspring, proving she’s more than comfortable on the stage as well as in front of the camera, while Cousins captures the perfect mix of optimism and naivety to save Adolph from being a sop.
And as Mills has proven before, no one does manipulative, nasty and just a little bit mad like him.
The one serious flaw is the set design which is a frustrating distraction at best.
Kate Rose, Sunday Herald Sun (28/11/10)