If you like high, often somewhat inexplicable levels of drama, then August Strindberg's ‘Creditors’, adapted by David Greig at the Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh, is the play for you.
‘Creditors’ features only three real characters. The protagonist Adolph (Edward Franklin), who is married to beautiful novelist Tekla (Adura Onashille), and the mysterious Gustav (Stuart McQuarrie), who throws a spanner in the works of Adolph and Tekla’s marriage.
First and foremost, this is a very well staged play. The scenery is simple but beautifully worked. The actors are also all commendable throughout. It’s just a shame that the text they are enacting is, at times, utterly - utterly - absurd. The play of course premiered in Denmark long ago, in 1889, and it's a bold choice to revive it. We found the play a really mixed bag.
The play opens with Adolph - and let’s not pretend that when you hear the name Adolph said aloud, you don’t get caught a little off guard - completely lovestruck and suffering as he is talked into becoming a frankly pathetic jealous wreck by Gustav, who Adolph naively believes to have saved him.
This discussion is almost like Gustav is a figment of Adolph’s imagination; the devil on his shoulder, egging him on with, amongst other things, shocking misogyny. Adolph lets him talk him into a state of horror verging on non-existence.
Where the problem lies is in Adolph’s absolute gullibility, which is exemplified nowhere better than in the fact that Gustav even manages to talk Adolph into believing that he will be struck down by epilepsy, with which he has no prior history, if he has sex with his wife in the next year. Adolph, for one reason or another, does not question this. It’s fairly ridiculous.
You could argue that this gullibility in medicine in particular comes from the fact they're in the late 19th century, but this time period really isn't established. Anyone watching could think it was 2018, making this entire plotline just downright odd. It takes away from both characters.
Furthermore, it's also brought up that Adolph’s wife once gave away their newly born child to foster care because “he had the eyes” of her ex, and while the play is centred entirely on the relationship of Adolph and Tekla, this point is absurdly never mentioned again throughout the remainder.
The dynamic between Adolph and Tekla is bizarre at best, with the lovers referring to each other as “little brother” and “big sister”, and this, in amongst the at-times simply preposterous nature of what Gustav is talking Adolph into, and how he is doing it, struggles to land, particularly given the otherwise sweet nature of the on-stage interactions between Adolph and Tekla.
There are three main segments to ‘Creditors’. The first features only this outrageous exchange between Gustav and Adolph, the second features a far more realistic and engaging discussion between Adolph and Tekla, and the finale features all three characters.
One of the most interesting parts of the staging is the way the segments are separated, with synchronised girl scouts coming onto the stage to modern minimalist hip-hop tracks (the play opens to Yung Lean’s ‘Red Bottom Sky’), and these transitions really are wonderful, standout moments.
The unique styling of the final third as well, where the majority of the performance on stage takes place in a hut on stage, behind a closed door, and is live streamed via black and white film onto a large screen for the audience to watch (as shown above), is interesting and engaging also. It’s a nice and original representation of the “behind closed doors” motifs.
What this style really left us feeling though, particularly in combination with the chaos of the script and unpredictability of the characters, was that in the finale we were ultimately watching a soap opera unfold live.
It’s certainly not a dull play anyway, and if you do like high levels of drama and explosive emotion then this is the one for you, but it’s tough to see the script finding universal agreement in the stalls.