August Strindberg’s Creditors — a new version by David Greig
Dion Mills and Brett Cousins in the first scene of Creditors
Photograph © Jodie Hutchinson, used with permission.
Funnily enough, Ibsen had one of Strindberg’s self-portraits on the wall where he wrote. He joked, late in his life, that he couldn’t write a word without Strindberg glowering down at him.
Of Strindberg’s great naturalistic ‘confrontation’ plays, I’ve always preferred this play, Creditors, and (to a lesser extent) The Stronger to Miss Julie and The Father. The clumsy inclusion of class differences in the latter plays makes them look dated, more like a Lorenzo da Ponte opera libretto for Mozart than a psychodrama.
A passing familiarity with the early plays (The Father 1887, Creditors and Miss Julie 1888, The Stronger 1890) brings with it a number of automatic spoilers: the reveal of identity, for example, and Strindberg’s inclusion in the action... usually as a character named Adolph!
But if you’re a newcomer to this play -- and I haven’t betrayed any of those surprises so far -- you might want to see it a second time.
Scottish playwright David Greig (known here for Yellow Moon, Outlying Islands, The American Pilot and others) has taken a literal translation of Creditors and refashioned it as a script worthy of Neil LaBute. It’s as harrowing as The Captive by Proust too, if you’re the pathetic/possessive type.
... I haven’t entirely decided if Greig’s version is good Strindberg, or even if good Strindberg is possible 122 years on, but it’s definitely impressive and thought provoking...I haven’t entirely decided if Greig’s brilliant new version is good Strindberg, or even if good Strindberg is possible 122 years on, but it’s definitely impressive and thought provoking. It’s feminist, too, in an accidental way.
Having been raised on Man Made Language by Dale Spender, and the rest of the canon, I found the argument in this play about the Male Protection Racket quite fascinating. Gustav (Dion Mills) argues, instead: it’s an escort racket... i.e. that first husbands are a means of escaping the stifling environment of family. (And that reminded me of Head On, a fairly recent and very powerful Turkish/German film about a suicidal young woman who opts to marry a decrepit stranger, at her own expense, so that she can hold hands with boys -- for starters, heh! -- and not have her nose broken by her brutally ‘protective’ brother.)
On the whole, this is a strong production too, though director David Bell and the cast (particularly Kat Stewart and Brett Cousins as wife and husband Tekla and Adolph) urgently need to address the gaping contradiction between Tekla’s book-throwing tantrum in the middle scene and her appearance as a thoughtful, fair and intelligent woman in the last. They’re not irreconcilable.
Strindberg understood:it ain’t what you say, it’s the way that you say. (And that in itself is remarkable, because Strindberg the man was a complete slave to his impulses and would, one imagines, be entirely incapable of saying something critical to his wife without it erupting into a paroxysm of passion. Yet Strindberg the artist knew enough about himself, about humanity, to see that another person -- cooler and more evolved than himself -- could deliver the exact same message to his wife and have it heard and absorbed and accepted.)
“What my nature demands” is the catchcry in this version, reminiscent of “it’s beyond my control” in Dangerous Liaisons. Of course what strikes us about Tekla -- that she’s a thoroughly modern missy -- might have struck Strindberg’s audience as appalling. Her very honesty about her need for other men, to flirt with and more, is admirable to us. And might well be monstrous in the time he wrote.
But in defending The Father (I think) after it had been rejected by a couple of producers and publishers, Strindberg wrote that in the fullness of time the rejecting producer will see that the play “contains the future” -- even if the wise still think it mad. Touche.
One of the best lines in Creditors drew laughs on opening night, though was played perfectly straight. [Spoiler alert, skip to the end of this par.] Gustav, the ex husband, compares his rediscovery of Tekla to the tasting of wine -- “a wine of my own bottling”-- years after laying it down. She was an inexperienced new wife, then. He now finds her complex and mature. I thought this a brilliant and apt metaphor.
Creditors, a tragicomedy by August Strindberg in a new version by David Greig. Directed by David Bell. Set and costume design by Loren Whiffin. Lighting design by Stelios Karagiannis. AV/sound design by Brett Ludeman. Red Stitch Actors Theatre. November 19, 2010. Season ends December 18.
My official [i.e. marginally less ranty!] review of Creditors is in today’s [Monday November 22, 2010] Herald Sun.