August Strindberg apparently subtitled his play Creditors (in Swedish: Fordringsäxgare) a “tragicomedy” but, while David Greig’s 2008 adaptation does indeed contain a few decent one-liners to inspire laughter, this remains an all-too-easily depressing tale of individuals brought down by the forgotten or overlooked fracture-lines in their own personalities—not least their ability to easily forget how past actions always come with a price which has to be paid, sooner or later.
What we witness is a slow but sure-footed exploration of jealousy, distrust and revenge
A decade on, Greig – now well established as the Artistic Director of Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum Theatre – has chosen director Stewart Laing to revive his version of arguably Strindberg’s most mature work, which is essentially a series of three concentrated duologues between young artist Adolph (Edward Franklin) and the mysterious visitor Gustav (Stuart McQuarrie), Adolph and his author wife Tekla (Adura Onashile), and Tekla and Gustav. What we witness is a slow but sure-footed exploration of jealousy, distrust and revenge that aims to be timeless and specific, although there remains a disconnect between those two aspects which is ultimately distracting.
As someone genuinely unsure about the recent resurrection of “broadcast theatre”, which manages to neither transmit the unique atmosphere of live performance nor match the full cinematic potential of filmed drama, it feels strange to admit that some of the most effective moments of Stewart Laing’s directorial take on Greig’s script involve the audience watching the action taking place inside the beach hut (which fills much of the Lyceum’s stage) on a screen. In part, this is simply down to tight choreography which results in the camera operator providing some emotionally intense visuals of Tekla and Gustav, head to head.
The real strength, however, comes from the cast: as is to be expected from an actor of McQuarrie’s skill, he is adept at shifting emphasis between stage and close-up camera work. While Onashile may lack obvious screen experience, she contains her performance well, providing us with a fascinating mix of vivacity and hurt as Tekla suddenly comes to recognise the author of her undoing. It’s a shame, really, that Franklin only has the opportunity to give us a somewhat theatrical stage performance as Adolph, restricted to using the broadest of performance strokes during his scenes with McQuarrie and Onashile.
Less successful are the four young women, dressed as Girl Guides, who arrive on stage between scenes, perform some action – semaphore, or lighting a fire – and then leave, stone-faced and silent. Their costumes are indeterminately vintage, suggesting a 19th century Scandinavian setting that somewhat clashes with the ethnic-blind casting of Tekla. Clearly looking to emphasise the timeless themes of Strindberg’s classic, Laing ignores how often that’s paradoxically best achieved in the quite specific.