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Review Round-up: Creditors Avoid Critical Crunch

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Two years after winning critical plaudits as well as a Whatsonstage.com Award for Best Director for My Name Is Rachel Corrie, actor Alan Rickman was back at the helm on Tuesday (30 September, previews from 25 September) for the opening of his new production of August Strindberg’s rarely seen 1890 play Creditors, which runs at the Donmar Warehouse until 15 November (See 1st Night Photos, 1 Oct 2008).

In the three-hander, in a new translation by David Greig, a sexually obsessed woman embarks on a second marriage to a crippled artist who, with his best friend as advisor, seeks to determine what a husband’s proper role should be. Anna Chancellor plays the wife, with Tom Burke as the husband and Owen Teale as his friend.

Critics welcomed the revival with open arms, revelling in Greig’s “mysteriously modern” translation and Rickman’s “white hot” production. A predictable smattering of credit crunch references were interspersed with high praise for the three cast members – Tom Burke’s “beautifully varied” Adolph, Owen Teale’s “masterful” take on the Machiavellian Gustav and Anna Chancellor’s “erotic tour de force” as Tekla. Overall, the raft of four-star notices confirmed “yet another Donmar triumph” under Michael Grandage’s leadership.

  • Michael Coveney on Whatsonstage.com (four stars) – “Although it dates from the same year as Miss Julie in 1888, Strindberg’s Creditors is less well known and far less performed. And yet it feels so much more mysteriously modern a play, and in David Greig’s new 90-minute version – which sounds like a jauntier version of Michael Meyer’s standard translation – the shock value is renewed and new minted … Schematically conceived in three riveting scenes, Alan Rickman’s white-hot production never slackens its grip for a minute … Teale plays with a controlled iciness that releases the character’s warped ferocity with frightening savagery, while Burke’s poor Adolph writhes and moans in a beautifully varied account of his own emotional dependency and helplessness. The play is a puzzle to some extent, with Gustav a psychic voyager of no fixed abode, and Strindberg’s Pirandellian touch of two passing ladies with their luggage is sadly cut (presumably for economic reasons); it should not have been. Overall, though, this is yet another Donmar triumph.”
    • Michael Billington in the Guardian (four stars) – “You can see the play in many ways; Germaine Greer, in a programme note, interprets it as a mythic portrait of warring coupledom. But both David Greig\'s new version and Rickman\'s production shift the focus towards the insanity of revenge. Gustav, in Owen Teale\'s masterful performance, becomes a frayed, scruffy-suited Iago who, in preying on Adolph\'s sexual insecurity, embodies a destructive nihilism … Admittedly Strindberg\'s modernity is compromised by his excessive use of eavesdropping and by his melodramatic conclusion. But one forgives his faults for his psychological penetration. And Teale\'s performance is well matched by that of Tom Burke who plays the impressionable Adolph as an overgrown child-man whose doubts about his wife\'s talent and fidelity are perfectly articulated by his tormentor. Anna Chancellor also admirably plays Tekla from her own point of view as a woman filled with an ardent sexuality that finds expression in nursery games in which she becomes her husband\'s self-styled Little Sister.”
    • Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph – “Creditors (1888) is rarely performed, yet it comes over like the distilled essence of Strindberg in Alan Rickman\'s gripping, powerful and blackly comic production … David Greig\'s translation powerfully captures the drama\'s cruelty and sudden thrilling surges of lust, as well as its elegant structure, so at odds with the emotional violence, in which the action consists of a series of duologues that work all the possible permutations between the three characters … Tom Burke harrowingly conveys the mental and physical disintegration of the second husband, looking like a helpless, blushing boy in a grown-up world as he finds himself helplessly entangled in coils of jealousy, fear and desire. Owen Teale brings icy authority and hypnotic precision to the stage as the avenging Gustav, while Anna Chancellor delivers an erotic tour de force as Tekla, who kinkily treats her second husband as if he were her younger brother and blazes with a fierce amoral desire for both the men in her life. Welcome to the Creditors crunch!”
    • Benedict Nightingale in The Times (four stars) – “Creditors isn’t as misogynistic a play as, say, The Father or Miss Julie. That’s partly because Gustav is more a vindictive liar than an aggrieved ex-husband and because Chancellor’s Tekla, when she returns from her trip away, doesn’t make that bad an impression. She somewhat infantilises her second husband and allows herself to be sweet-talked by her first; but, again, we’re more appalled by Adolph’s destructive deceit than put off by anything this strong, attractive woman says or does. There’s disgust and anger here, but it’s directed more at a ruthless male and the institution of marriage than at an uppity female. And the result is to rescue one of Strindberg’s least performed plays from its oubliette. With Burke’s Adolph moving from doldrums to despair, Rickman’s revival isn’t only well acted. It isn’t only forceful, riveting stuff. It’s as balanced a picture of gender warfare as Strindberg was capable of producing.”
    • Paul Taylor in the Independent (four stars) – “Creditors is not preoccupied with the financial side of debt. Real and imagined, onstage and offstage, creditors with terrifying demands stalk the dream world of the great Swedish dramatist as the bogeymen who symbolise our dread of facing up to bad debts of the emotional kind. And this proves to be the case in Alan Rickman\'s splendid revival of this wonderfully taut and savagely witty three-hander … And as Rickman\'s production reveals with brilliantly baleful humour, this play is a tragicomic joke on all three of the participants. Yes, Anna Chancellor\'s terrific, high-handed Tekla is no better than she should be. She wants her husband to be just one sexually playful ‘brother’ among other toy boys, and her impresario, yet berates him for not being man enough and for taking too much credit for her novels. Confronted with the naked, crotch-splaying sculpture he has made of her, she retaliates by adopting other provocative poses … A marvellous evening, this revival of Strindberg\'s Creditors leaves us with yet another debt of gratitude to Michael Grandage\'s Donmar.”

      - by Theo Bosanquet

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