Tuesday, 30 April 2019

REVIEW: Creditors at the Jermyn Street Theatre

Howard Brenton has an interesting writing profile from the controversial Romans in Britain in 1980 and the utterly brilliant Pravda in 1985 to the more recent wonderful local story of Shadow Factory for NST Southampton. Recently, he has displayed an obsessive affection with the Jermyn Street Artistic Director, Tom Littler for the work of Swedish classic author August Strindberg and together they are staging two more adaptions in repertory at the venue. First up is Creditors written with its better known piece Miss Julie in the summer of 1888 in a naturalistic style that was revolutionary for the time. The challenge is how to adapt and rework them for a modern audience to manage dated attitudes and create an engaging piece of theatre. He, director Tom Littler and the cast completely deliver on this creative challenge.

The action takes place in the public areas of a hotel on the coast and is a love triangle between Tekla, her husband Adolf and her unseen former husband which explodes with arrival of suave stranger at the hotel who for eight days resides in room 8 which adjoins the public space. The eighty minutes adaption without interval is a fascinating chess game for three players as they try to manoeuvre each other insecurities to an emotional checkmate with dramatic consequences.

At the centre is Dorothea Myer-Bennett as the beautiful flirty Tekla. She is a confident intelligent author but damaged by her first husband who was a tyrant and a fool and has now fallen for her second husband an insecure artiste with an unexplained disability which requires occasional crutches. Adolf is played with a child like passion by James Sheldon who is easily manipulated and taken in by the stranger despite his love for Tekla. We can easily see his love, rage and insecurity that taunts him and the guilt of having stolen Tekla away when her husband was out of the country. 

David Sturzaker is the stranger Gustaf who has a mischievous delight in trying to manipulate first Adolf and then Tekla as he tries to plant destructive ideas in both their minds suggesting affairs, illnesses, and a loss of artistic ability. The weaker Adolf falls for it but the smarter Tekla is capable of giving as good as she receives.

There is a timeless feel about the elegant white panelled room and matching
furniture design by Louie Whitemore although costumes suggest a period piece. The soundscape by Max Pappenheim sets the scene with roaring waves of the nearby sea and the ferry steam whistle but occasionally distracted when it sounded more like a roaring motorway going past the hotel. It was also slightly odd to see them drinking water from sherry glasses, when a little colouring would have created realism.

This was my fourth visit to the intimate Jermyn Street theatre and they also select interesting plays to revive but this is by the far the most successful I have seen. The setting fitted perfectly into the space and the three hander played out perfectly as if we were also eavesdroppers in the public room of a hotel observing a family situation. As in so many Scandinavian classic plays it is the female character who is the strongest and most impactful and questions whether she is manipulated or manipulative, and it is this fundamental theme that makes them as relevant today despite the changing attitudes and morality.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: Stalls, Row E | Price of Ticket: £30
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