Theatre review - Creditors, Theatre by the Lake, Keswick

James Sheldon (Adolf) and Dorothea Myer-Bennett (Tekla). Photo by Robert Day.

James Sheldon (Adolf) and Dorothea Myer-Bennett (Tekla). Photo by Robert Day. - Credit: Archant

Swedish playwright August Strindberg’s masterpiece comes to Keswick.

Dorothea Myer-Bennett (Tekla) and James Sheldon (Adolf). Photo by Robert Day.

Dorothea Myer-Bennett (Tekla) and James Sheldon (Adolf). Photo by Robert Day. - Credit: Archant

The Theatre by the Lake has begun 2019 with Strindberg’s ‘Creditors’, a play he considered his masterpiece. Produced by TBTL and Jermyn Street Theatre, the play pairs with ‘Miss Julie’, written the same year (1888), which was a hit with Cumbrian audiences in 2017 and will have five more performances this season. If you can, go see both. ‘Miss Julie’ is naïve lust gone wrong, but ‘Creditors’ is a brilliant portrayal of love, twisted and tortured beyond recognition.

The plot centres around three characters: one, a distraught painter (played by James Sheldon) who has lost his way largely because of distress over his wife; the second, his flirtatious and childlike wife (Dorothea Myer-Bennett); third, without giving too much away, an enigmatic stranger (David Sturzaker) who has a perverse influence on the painter which leads to calamity. Although a one-act play, the three separate interactions of these characters reveal how each is a ‘creditor’ to each, one way or another; and creditors, sooner or later, call in their debts.

David Sturzaker (Gustaf) and James Sheldon (Adolf). Photo by Robert Day

David Sturzaker (Gustaf) and James Sheldon (Adolf). Photo by Robert Day - Credit: Archant

Billed as a black comedy or tragicomedy I have to say that the tragedy part receives greater emphasis than the comedy - so go expecting drama rather than a roaring good fun. Having enjoyed the productions of ‘Miss Julie’ I was looking forward to seeing this new adaptation by Howard Brenton, who is unashamedly obsessed with Strindberg. I’m not sure whether ‘Creditors’ is the better of the two, nevertheless, it is a fascinating look into morality and the motivations of others.

As usual, the production, set in the intimate studio theatre, was top class in terms of set design and even layout of the seating (where I was sat I actually felt as if I was in that room with the characters). If I had to pick out one of the actors I would mention Dorothea Myer-Bennett whose performance as the wife, Tekla, was superlative. It is a strange thing to say, but her laughter was particularly appropriate - you’ll have to watch her to see what I mean, but she catches the naughty, mischievous nature of the character perfectly.

I am intrigued about the timing of when Strindberg wrote this play. There is much which seems rather Freudian and yet the psychoanalyst was still three years away from writing his first book, so the playwright foreshadowed much of what was to come. The clash between atheism and faith (and, perhaps, hope) is a central theme, and by 1888 Darwin’s theory of evolution was well established and shaken both theological and scientific school of thought. Strindberg himself had very strange ideas which varied from out-and-out paganism through to complete scientific atheism. These themes, wrapped in a battle-of-the-sexes scenario, remain absolutely relevant to society today, asking why men and women behave the way they do towards one another - and who, ultimately, is the winner. This is a play likely to leave you thinking deeply all the way home. That’s got to be a good thing, in my book.

‘Creditors’ plays in Theatre by the Lake’s Main House until 20 April 2019. For more information and to book tickets visit or call the Box Office on 017687 74411.