“Creditors” at The Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh from 27 April to 12 May adapted by David Greig and directed by Stewart Laing presents us with a re-working of the classic exploration of the human dynamics of relationships by August Strindberg but, for me, somewhere along the way missed many opportunities to pay off its debts.
I think that part of the problem here may be that this work is a very personal one to Strindberg himself (the part of Tekla was written for his wife Siri Von Essen). This at times exploration of his own psychological make-up obviously gave him a special insight into the psychology of his characters that at the time of writing and first production of the work on stage in 1889 created some rarely viewed thoughts on the strengths and independence of women. With the hindsight of some 150 years we can look back and reflect just how special these views were, but there are still elements in this work that, even after adaptation, still reveal their original time-frame views on some things, and those are at times at odds with our current thinking on some things. Views and perceptions on many things change with the passage of time and that is always going to be a problem when re-working any period classic. The core exploration of the human condition of course never changes and that is where the strength of this work lies.
Our cast, made up by Edward Franklin (Adolph), Stuart McQuarrie (Gustav) and Adura Onashile (Tekla) are all very good here. They have to be, this is a dialogue driven work and there is nowhere for anyone to hide any weaknesses on stage here, particularly as our dialogue is always centered around two people – one to one. Stuart McQuarrie is quite chilling in parts as the highly manipulative Gustav, and his change as his mask slips from him is very subtle and not in some vaudeville version of Mr Hyde.
Edward Franklin as our love struck and anguished artist Adolph gets perhaps the most difficult personality to play, and for the most part pulls it off so well. Adolph has many personal issues and is obviously in the process of a mental breakdown. That aspect for some reason is never fully explored (maybe due to the perception of the issue at the original time this work was written), and that is a pity as it closed so many opportunities for Edward to explore more fully. We do get some clues to his illness with references to “snakes in his head again” from Tekla.
Our central character around which everything revolves is of course Tekla, who is, out of everyone here, the only person that for me has duality of personality. Yes she is a very strong, unique and free spirited woman who is very successful in her career as a writer (and we must always remember these facts in relation to how women were so often portrayed in the late 19th century by writers), but she also has lightness and darkness to her. Adura Onashile is very good at bringing out the differences here as we at times have a very cruel streak showing as Tekla threatens her husband with his worst fears, and a woman who is at times utterly self-centred, but also one capable of great tenderness.
This is for me a work of pros and cons in equal measure. As a work to review, it is really two works in one as, although our performance had a running time of nearly two uninterrupted hours, there is a natural break in the story, and perhaps using that break would not actually disturb the story line at all, but give us time to reflect on the cruel manipulation and psychological destruction of Adolph by the yet un-named Gustav. It is difficult to write this review without giving away spoilers, but to me the reasons for this manipulative destruction by Gustav was so clear that it set up final resolutions to the story that only had limited outcomes far too early in the plot.
“Creditors” has an opportunity to be one of the great love stories of our time, but instead turns into an at times very disturbing portrayal of psychological manipulation and destructive revenge. Adolph is totally infatuated by Tekla, she is his other heart beat, but by the time we meet the two of them together here, there is ( although the magical mirror that he sees the world in has already been cracked by Gustav) little that tells me that this is an all consuming love that Adolph has for Tekla. It is more like two friends meeting for a chat at times.
If I do have one big issue with the story and dialogue, it is its use and portrayal of epilepsy. Having known a few people in my life who have had to live on a daily basis with this very real and unpleasant medical condition, I found its use here not pleasant (maybe again a left over from 19th century viewpoints). I also found the laughter from some of the audience on the subject totally inappropriate at this point. I had hoped that we were long past the point of deriving humour from a person’s medical condition (even if not intended by the writer) but sadly not. Re-writing this little piece completely and removing the references would have made no difference to the overall work, but avoided this issue for me.
A very swift reference here to the child of Tekla and Adolph also raises many unanswered and unexplored elements of their relationship and Tekla in particular. An odd resolution to what we are led to believe is an idyllic relationship…well to Adolph at least. Some very probing and fundamental questions about human nature too. Is for example betrayal still betrayal if the act is decided upon but never carried out?
There are some great lines of dialogue in here though and some very sharp and dry humour. The detail is in the words here. Also, some very innovative use of technology to give us two views of events as they affect everyone at the same time.
I do have a great liking here for the set design, also by Stewart Laing. Very simple, from odd perspectives at times, but very effective. The interior of our hut’s walls are also very specific to the story line at this point, and perhaps some of the main details are missed (you will I hope see what I mean when you go to the performance) at times. As for those girl guides, I just wish I understood distress calls by flashlight and messages in semaphore.
Perhaps the biggest question to be answered here though is in the title itself. In any good relationship, is anyone ever keeping an accountancy tab of who is in credit to whom at any point in time? The very title suggests that this relationship is not breaking up, it has already broken up, but no one has yet truly noticed or wanted to notice that fact.
Review by Tom King