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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the Donmar Warehouse


  Tom Burke and Anna Chancellor/PH: Hugo Glendinning

Those expecting some sort of credit crunch docudrama have another thing coming with Creditors, as, for that matter, the rest of the audience does, too. Strindberg's three-character chamber play seems bleaker and blacker than ever in actor-turned-director Alan Rickman's acutely observed Donmar Warehouse production of it, which survives one uneven performance to poleaxe an audience with its unvarnished view of human venality. Suddenly, I wanted to hurt you I just felt like it, Gustav, a would-be stranger who of course turns out to be nothing of the sort, casually remarks to his former wife, Tekla, a writer on the ascent who has gone on to marry a sculptor in apparently irreversible decline. A study in the careful, stealthy spread of cruelty, Strindberg's 1888 text in Scotsman's David Greig's fierce new version would seem the last word in the ongoing war between the sexes, had Alan Ayckbourn's The Norman Conquests this same unusually rich theater season not gone even one step further, finding the darkest possible comedy in the misery that may just be man and woman's most genuinely lasting bond.

At first, Creditors brings together man and man: Owen Teale's suave, sartorially dashing Gustav who, Iago-like, descends upon the anaemic, epilepsy-prone Adolph (Tom Burke, on opening night not yet in full possession of the role of a man possessed) in order to sow irreversible seeds of uncertainty in the mind of his hapless victim. On hand, Gustav says, to provide an autopsy of the soul, he couches his malignity in an ongoing quest for the truth whereby Tekla exists simply to be tested, and if she crumbles under the assault, well, then, so what? Ben Stones's bleached-wood set is both inviting and a tad forbidding, the hotel lounge as incipient asylum whose bland cream colors won't prevent blood - however figuratively - from being spilt.

The triangular roundelay gains in both allure and unself-conscious bravado from the emergence into this initially male domain of Anna Chancellor's glamorous Tekla, whose unfortunate lot it is to awaken as the night goes on to both the severity and savagery of her entrapment. Her dusky face matched by a voice that really booms out within the studio confines of the Donmar, Chancellor seems pleased to be able to shake the play up, having looked on however commandingly as a little more than an accessory to Jeremy Iron's Macmillan earlier this year at the National in Never So Good. Or maybe it's just that she is as aware as anyone of having landed in a climate that doesn't allow much room for good, Adolph consigned to varying degrees of consciousness leaving a wife on red alert as to her former partner's galloping rage.

In that catalytic role, the towering presence that is Teale uses his own sheer size as an implicit weapon laying low all obstacles in his wake: this is Teale's first performance since his Tony winning Torvald in A Doll's House to tap into the mixture of brute force and fine breeding that this first-rate actor transmits.That there are few more riveting sights in the London theater at the moment than watching Tekla get trampled underfoot is in no way to endorse the sheer venom of a text that offers scant blueprint for actual behaviour. Instead,one pays shocked obeisance to Creditors as one does to a crash, and I don't mean of the stock market kind. Suffice it to say that by the time Tekla, in Chancellor's superlative rendering of womanhood going down for the count, gets to her last and desperate plea for help, a spellbound audience sits by helplessly poised to offer a lifeline, all the while knowing that such unbridled hatred usually kills.


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