A masterpiece before our eyes

Creditors, Theatre by the Lake

It’s distressing enough to be in the next room when through the thin walls you can hear a destructive quarrel under way. And yet you feel compelled to listen.

How much more harrowing to be IN the room, and witness the agonies, the looks of despair and triumph, the physical damage of psychological torture, and yet be compelled to watch.

In the intimacy of Keswick’s Studio Theatre, this world premiere adaptation (by Howard Brenton) of Strindberg’s Creditors is utterly mesmerising; is this drama, or are we there as unwitting participants in a psychoanalytical exercise?

gustaf and adolf

Director Tom Littler – like Strindberg himself – provides more questions than answers in a truly brilliant staging of this masterpiece which descends from dangerously dark comedy into shocking tragedy. As Brenton says of Strindberg: “A bitter humour flashes as his characters flail about locked in a tragic endgame they cannot escape.”

And such characters! These are rivetingly magnificent performances by David Sturzaker as Gustaf, James Sheldon as Adolf, and Dorothea Myer-Bennett as Tekla. She, writer, enchantress, flirt, is the new wife of a sensitive artist. Her first husband, inveigling himself into the artist’s life, and using the most cruel of mind-games, sets about a process of destructive undermining so that confidence shrivels and withers before our eyes.

Gustav takes up a small knife to nonchalantly peel an apple as he peels away at the layers of both Adolf’s self worth and his devotion to his wife. We laugh at his description of a woman: “A man who’s incomplete, a child who shot up fast and then stopped growing, a person with chronic anaemia who haemorrhages regularly thirteen times a year!” But it is deeply uncomfortable laughter.

This exceptional production is another joint venture between Theatre by the Lake and Jermyn Street Theatre in London where Tom Littler is artistic director. It plays at Keswick until April 20 and then moves to London. It’s a wonderful collaboration, and further testament to the truly significant role of this Cumbrian stage in British theatre today.

Details: /www.theatrebythelake.com

Photos: Robert Day

adolf and tekla

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