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A CurtainUp London London Review

Creditors Makes a Stop at BAM

David Greig's new version of August Strindberg's drama is currently making a stop at The Brooklyn Academy of Music's Harvey Theater 651 Fulton Street, Fort Greene; (718) 636-4100. The Bam-Donmar Warehouse co-production began its 1-month run April 16th and will continue through May 16. Same director, actors and creative team as in the production notes of our British critic's review. Performance schedule is Tuesday to Saturdays 7:30; Sundays at 3pm Curtainup reviewer Paulanne Simmons found herself in agreement with the review posted during the play's London run, and had this to say about the BAM production:

The transfer from the intimate Donmar to the much larger Harvey stage may serve to emphasize the isolation of these characters, both from each other and the larger, saner outside world. It certainly gives Tom Burke, as the invalid husband, plenty of room in which to hobble about. But all that space does take away from the intensity of the drama. In Creditors there is no escape, and the audience should know it.
Review in London by Charlotte Loveridge

If you look for honey in another man's hives, you shouldn't be surprised if you get stung.— Gustav
Tom Burke as Adolph and Anna Chancellor as Tekla
(Photo: Hugo Glendinning)
Written whilst Strindberg was going through one of his bitter divorces, Creditors reflects the playwright's own much-documented, much-troubled relations with women. In a bitter exposition of destructive, possessive marriage, financial transactions are used as a running metaphor for unbalanced marital contact. Although part of his naturalistic period, the characters in Creditors are archetypal figures endowed with ponderously agonistic dialogue. In a new translation by David Greig and directed by Alan Rickman, the Donmar's lucid production of this heftily bleak play does not shy away from Strindberg's unforgiving view of human interaction.

The plot focuses on the relationship between an invalid husband and his older, free-thinking wife. In spite of their artistic lifestyles full of creativity and egoism, the shadow of the wife's former tyrannical husband, roundly and very publicly abused in her first novel, lurks over them. Meanwhile, the husband's physical weakness is matched by his spiritual impressionability and his emotional sanity starts to crumble. We see him interrogated by an apparently supportive mentor-medical figure, who advises him that he is in mortal danger of epilepsy, linked to his "excessive signs of love" for his wife.

In an accomplished cast of just three, each part is equally weighted and crucial. Tom Burke plays the husband Adolph as a weakling and voluble fool without utterly sacrificing pity for his plight. Anna Chancellor is his dazzling wife Tekla— self-centred, vain and proud, but also the most sympathetic of the characters. With her vision of humanity, ("No guilt - only people; fallen human beings trying to do the best they can"), it is a shame that her worldview is not reflected more in the play's own outlook. Owen Teale is the local doctor-style figure of Gustav, menacing in his phlegmatic calmness as he wreaks psychological devastation. Reminiscent of Iago, he is chillingly played as a manipulative force of sheer negation.

The set design by Ben Stones is a minimalist, white-washed stage of a Swedish hotel's lounge. Tall rain-streaked Velux windows tower above the stage and a moat of real water unobtrusively surrounds it, adding the vague sense of warfare, siege and inescapability.

This production is intelligent and earnest in spite of some rather clunkily directed movement. It is a play with a deep vein of misanthropy, as well as more specific misogyny. The characters simply are not likeable enough to guarantee interest, let alone sympathetic engagement. Although often compared to Othello, it lacks the heroism either of the angelically innocent Desdemona or the glorious stature of Othello himself. The overwhelmingly nihilistic impetus portrays a view of a warped human race where there is no hope, help or even mitigating explanation, just conflict without understanding. With vague theorising and rationalising, the characters are immersed in a mire of subjective half-truths and no single impartial version of the past is ascertainable. This annihilating vision of men and women's relations has palpable rawness, but also a desolation of spirit and warmth. The play may be deliberately appalling but this necessarily means that it is also a deeply unpleasant viewing experience.

Written by August Strindberg
Translated by David Greig
Directed by Alan Rickman

With: Anna Chancellor, Tom Burke, Owen Teale
Set design: Ben Stones
Costume design: Fotini Dimou
Lighting design: Howard Harrison
Composer and sound design: Adam Cork
Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes without an interval
Box Office: 0870 060 6624
Booking to 15th November 2008
Reviewed by Charlotte Loveridge based on 1st October 2008 performance at The Donmar Warehouse, 41 Earlham Street, Seven Dials, London WC2H 9LX (Tube: Covent Garden)
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