Creditors review: A paranoid play that works like a chauvinist’s nightmare

David Greig’s version of August Strindberg’s play is luridly unhinged, but this odd production opts to play it seriously

Creditors The New Theatre HH

Left alone together too long, they become shrill, manipulative, conspiratorial, downright bitchy. Leave it to August Strindberg, the Swedish playwright associated with breakthroughs in form and uninhibited misogyny, to show us just how hysterical these men can be.

This fascinatingly paranoid play from 1889, in which male potency is vampirically sapped by female independence, works something like a chauvinist’s nightmare, and David Greig’s 2008 version plays along.

In a hotel room, the young artist Adolph (Kevin C Olohan), who is as malleable as clay and half as smart, has become mysteriously enfeebled, physically and creatively. His sympathetic adviser, Gustav (Ronan Leahy), is quick to find the reason: his wife. Having seduced her away from another man, introduced her to an artistic social circle, empowered her to write, publish and even swim, Adolph has been drained to a husk.


“It’s cannibalism,” Gustav tells him. “She’s consumed your courage and your knowledge.”

Long before we meet Tekla (Susan Bracken), who comes across as a not entirely innocent bystander, it is clear that this is less a battle of the sexes than the self-destruction of a single gender. Aldolph worries about nothing quite as much as male rivalry, but happily finds himself feeling more manly in Gustav’s company. Gustav considers Tekla’s ex-husband to be a source of guilt, pursuing them “like a bad debt”, later writing off womankind in outrageously misogynistic terms.

This sort of transparent psychology within a heavy-handed revenge drama can sometimes be splutter-inducingly funny: did he actually say that? But it requires a much defter handling than C Company's production can manage.

Strindberg’s anxieties are too obvious, his plot details too bizarre and even his setting too unstable for director Aoife Spillane-Hinks’s approach of modern-dress naturalism.

Tastefully designed (with Cait Corkery’s muted set and Hannah Bowe’s fading lights) and sedately paced, it has the curious effect of giving an overblown play an underblown staging.

For an uneven cast, it becomes a struggle. Olohan might have made Adolph a pathetic grotesque but instead seems merely wan. Bracken barely registers as Tekla, giving the part a one-note vanity. Only Leahy strikes an enjoyably fitting tone, as the Iago-like Gustav: always intense, slightly amused and cracked; when he leaves the stage, the show sags. Leahy never quite winks at the audience, but nor does he take a luridly unhinged play entirely seriously.

In Strindberg's fever dream of sexual possessiveness and bitter indebtedness, barely tamed by Greig, that seems to be as much as Creditors is owed. Until February 6th

Peter Crawley

Peter Crawley

Peter Crawley, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about theatre, television and other aspects of culture