Jermyn Street Theatre
Reviewed – 29th April 2019
“the chemistry between all three of the actors is totally delectable”
Poor August Strindberg. Despite being just as instrumental to the rise of naturalist drama, the Swedish writer has always played second fiddle to his contemporary Henrik Ibsen, and is often relegated to the footnotes of theatre history. Luckily, Howard Brenton is on hand to provide adaptations of some of Strindberg’s best work at the Jermyn Street Theatre, that seek to remind audiences that his writing was just as seminal as that of A Doll’s House or Hedda Gabler.
Creditors, initially written in 1888 ostensibly centres on Adolf (James Sheldon), a painter and sculptor whose anxieties about his new wife Tekla’s (Dorothea Myer-Bennett) faithfulness towards him are exacerbated by an intellectual new friend (David Sturzaker) he’s made. I use the word ‘ostensibly’, because as the plot develops, each character gets their turn in the spotlight that focuses on their motivations and desires. It’s an uncommon structural choice but it works exceptionally well in creating empathy on all sides – a necessity considering the thematic heft of the material, dealing with ideas of faith, love, art, and entitlement in a mature and thoughtful way.
Brenton’s adaptation, based on a translation from Agnes Broomé, crackles with dramatic electricity, that conveys the central questions of the play in smart ways while also facilitating emotionally charged character-driven moments. This is helped in no small part by Tom Littler’s direction and Louie Whitemore’s design, which confidently allow a lot of stillness from the actors to let the script speak for itself, and sets a stellar balance of delivering laughs while also consistently ramping up the tension. The performances, too, are utterly magnetic as the chemistry between all three of the actors is totally delectable. Sheldon and Myer-Bennett in particular share a scene that is oozing with nuance and subtext as the pair play secret agendas against each other, and the dynamic between the two was grippingly unpredictable.
Creditors is not a flawless play – the first third lacks the same creativity and cleverness of the other two, and certain plot points are somewhat predictable, but by and large, the team behind this adaptation have crafted a nigh-on irrefutable argument for Strindberg’s work to remain at the forefront of the pantheon of writers that pioneered drama as we know it today. The play is running on alternating nights with Miss Julie, featuring the same cast and creatives, and I for one cannot wait to return to the Jermyn Street Theatre tomorrow and continue falling in love with this prolific writer’s oft-neglected oeuvre.
Reviewed by Tom Francis
Photography by Robert Day
Jermyn Street Theatre until 1st June
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