Adapted to a contemporary Australian setting, Creditors proves as powerful as it is relevant to the present day, writes Alan Brissenden.
August Strindberg’s searing play of 1888 is as modern as 2018. Its heroine, Tekla (Caroline Craig), is a late-blooming novelist married to a weak-willed artist, Adolph (Matt Crook), who has been influenced to change from painting to sculpture by the older Gustav (Peter Kowitz), a teacher, who years before had been left by Tekla, asserting her rights to be herself and not be ruled by him.
Duncan Graham’s new version sets the play in an Australian beach-side house where Gustav is staying with Adolph while Tekla is away for a few days. Insidiously he turns Adolph against Tekla, claiming that she is unfaithful, dominates him, is robbing him of his masculinity and leading him into epilepsy. In fact their sex life is rich, more than merely satisfactory – so much is clear from Adolph’s rhapsodic descriptions in the first of the play’s three duologues.
Gustav hides in another room where he can overhear when Tekla returns – a spirited, sexually alive, initially happy woman who is by turns puzzled, seductive and angry when Adolph spills out the misogynistic bilge that Gustav has been feeding him, even repeating whole sentences – Tekla at one point saying he was not speaking like himself, which he denies. This second duologue seesaws back and forth with flaming rows and reconciliations until Adolph walks out.
The third, between Gustav and Tekla, develops from calm discussion to near violence, to her almost succumbing to his sleazy charm and then his shocking declaration that he is marrying again – and again to a younger woman. Adolph, who has been eavesdropping in the other room, opens the door, slides to the floor and suffers an epileptic fit.
This is a revenge play, Kowitz a nastily subtle villain, punishing the independent Tekla and jealous of Adolph’s creativity. Crook’s volatile, malleable Adolph invites sympathy, and is a foil for Kowitz’s quiet deviousness. Craig is a glowing Tekla, wonderfully expressive in both face and body. She is a surviving Desdemona between the credulous (and epileptic) Othello of Adolph and the despicable Iago of Gustav.
David Mealor’s direction gives full rein to this powerful play’s extremes, Quentin Grant’s music discreetly supports significant moments, and Mark Pennington has lit it with sensitivity.
Creditors has had two recent productions in the UK, in London in 2008 and Edinburgh in May this year, but this is the first by a major Australian theatre company.
It is one to see.
Creditors continues at the Space Theatre until August 5.
Photography: Chris Herzfeld