William Congreve once wrote “Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned.” And so it is with Creditors. A dark but comic deconstruction of marriage where the fallout is good, old-fashioned revenge. Neil Smith has updated Strindberg’s classic text and set it against the backdrop of a banking crisis. Rioting gangs have reclaimed the streets (sound familiar?) in a bid to force financial institutions to repay their debts to society. By contrast, the hotel lobby in which the story unfolds seems calm. But don’t be fooled. Bubbling beneath the surface, a debt is being pursued here too.
The play opens with Adolph, a young artist, frenetically working on a headless clay sculpture. It is supposed to be his wife Tekla, the best-selling author of lowbrow vampire fantasies. She left three days earlier, following an argument prompted by his jealousy. And in her absence he has been befriended by Gustav. The connection is unclear at first. Though only recently acquainted, Gustav - the older of the two - has already managed to persuade Adolph to switch from painting, his preferred medium, to sculpting. My initial theory, that he is a therapist, is quickly disproved.
His smiling mask slips, each time Adolph turns his back. He is clearly manipulating the younger man. And having accomplished the first step in his plan, he sets out to convince the impressionable artist that his absent wife has stolen his soul, then tutors him on how to reclaim it once she returns.
There is clearly an underlying vampirical theme in Creditors and having done my research, it seems Strindberg was fixated with female characters who bled men dry. However this play feels much more like a battle of man vs woman. One person’s will pitted against another’s. My favourite scene is the sparring contest between Gustav and Tekla - a woman used to getting what she wants and who indulges her “Ickle” toyboy husband like a spoilt child. They are evenly matched. But there can only be one winner. To regain control is the ultimate prize.
This is what I love about the Brockley Jack Studio. Though diminutive in size, it is big in ambition. And you are guaranteed quality theatre with each new production. A south London gem, it offers a black cube-shaped performance space which is intriguing and surprisingly changeable. See for yourself!
The whole cast gives strong performances. Paul Trussell excels as the conniving, creepy and manipulative banker, Gustav, who turns out to be Tekla’s jilted ex-husband. Back to recoup what he is owed. Rachel Heaton meanwhile is utterly convincing as the aloof and businesslike Tekla. She could so easily have overplayed her role - she refers to herself in the third person as “Pussy,” for goodness sake - but doesn’t. She is unlikeable from the start. And I think this is a tribute to her acting ability. Tice Oldfield brilliantly captures the manic and emotionally fragile “man-child” Adolph, unwittingly caught in a tug of war between the older couple.
If revenge is a dish best served cold then Living Record’s production is an absolute master-class. This is an excellent play, being performed right on our doorsteps. Please go and see it.