Monday, April 6, 2015

'Creditors' at the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre

Outside we hear the sounds of rioting. Credit has, according to the front page of a newspaper, finally crunched too hard. The masses are burning the banks, demanding their share of what's rightfully theirs. In the lobby of an apparently deserted hotel sits the artist Adolph (Tice Oakfield). He's waiting for his beloved wife Tekla (Rachel Heaton) to return, eager to show off his new creative direction, brimming over with affection and a manic, barely controlled happiness. 

But there's a snake in the garden; Tekla ex-husband Gustav (Paul Trussell). With Machiavellian precision he slips poisonous doubt into Adolph's ear, word by word curdling the artist's mind against his wife. Soon Adolph is convinced that Tekla is draining his soul away. As the play progresses these three characters wind around each other in increasing unhealthy ways. Adolph collapsing into suicidal panic, Tekla's poised world shatteing and Gustav gloating, taking psychopathic pleasure in watching the world collapse.

The play, adapted 'after Strindberg' by Neil Smith intelligently, satirically and viciously excavates bourgeois values. The three characters, artist, author and businessman, exist in an insulated bubble. Adolph's art is increasing (and somewhat literally) navel-gazing, self indulgent bullshit, Tekla writes crappy books about 'sex vampires' and the predatory Gustav explains "when everything's going to shit there are always ways to make money". Both Tekla and Adolph like to pretend they're good people - Tekla doing charitable work and Adolph indignantly (and hilariously) exclaiming "I'm a liberal!". 

So we are watching the elite fiddle as Rome burns; the psychic reverberations of the rioting outside penetrating their cosy world. This adds up to a gleefully sadistic portrait of the rich, finding themselves with nothing left to devour, turning on each other. Neither Adolph nor Tekla are particularly likeable; Adolph self-obsessed to the point of wanting to crawl back up the birth canal to the mindless security of the womb, Tekla shallow and unimaginative, wallowing in celebrity, luxury and sex.

Paradoxically it's the diabolical Gustav who captures most of our sympathies. Sure he's a monster, but at least he's relatively open about it. In comparison to Adolph's lily livered pliability, Gustav's strongly dominate personality marks him as the dynamic force in the play. Tekla even admits that Gustav, horrible though he may be, exudes animal magnetism - able to seduce with the sheer force of his presence. Occasionally he feels as if he's the manifestation of Adolph and Tekla's deeply buried class guilt - they know what's going on outside but are firmly 1%ers.. Rooting for the villain - especially a horrible Randian ubermensch - is an uncomfortable feeling, yet I suppose you find your forces of revolutionary change where you can get 'em.

Then again, when he's played so compellingly, perhaps its not such a leap. Trussell injects every single motion of Gustav with serpentine grace, his eyes and tongue flickering cruelly behind the mask of his face. I think Trussell has shaved his eyebrows off for the part and this, coupled with his severe features, combines for a Voldemort-ish inhumanity. In the notes I took during the play I repeatedly Gustav's reptilian qualities, and then Tekla herself exclaims "You slithered inside him, didn't you? Snake! Slither, slither."

Ticeman and Heaton are no slouches either. From the moment we meet Adolph we can tell he's as malleable as the clay he sculpts. Ticeman's pale complexion, skinny frame and wide-staring eyes make him look like a man-child, his tantrums and gullibility pathetic, yet sympathetic as well. He plaintively exclaims that "he showed promise in his early work". It's this promise that has ruined him, forever trying to live up to an imagined ideal of what he should be. Ticeman plays him almost as the caricature of the fragile artist, an individual secure in the knowledge that if he feels this confused there must be something within he can work with.

Heaton's Tekla is somewhat more likeable, though her insistence on referring to herself in the third person as "Pussy" is just on the wrong side of sexually uncomfortable. Adolph and Tekla's marriage appears to be a warped mother/child relationship, directly symbolised by the always present sculpture of Tekla emerging from a grossly engorged vulva. This, combined with her 'sex-vampire-lit' professional work, means Tekla drips eroticism, something Heaton ably conveys. She's all gently pouted lips, cat-like body language and teasing poses, nearly literally wrapping poor Adolph around her little finger.

It's a hell of a good time, well performed, smartly staged and with an utterly nailed down tone. Refreshingly, Creditors isn't afraid to dabble in histrionics and ridiculousness, things eventually spiralling to a conclusion as barmy as it is satisfying. Wonderful stuff.


Creditors is at the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre until April 11th. Tickets here.

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