A mystery surrounds the plot of Red Stitch Theatre’s latest production, Creditors. Speaking to Dion Mills, who plays the part of Gustav in Daniel Grieg’s adaptation of August Strindberg’s original play, he says: “I can’t tell you the exact story because there’s a twist in the tale and I don’t want to give it away.”
Creditors marks the third Daniel Grieg play Red Stitch Theatre has performed in recent years. With direction from David Bell, the play is a naturalistic exploration of the relationships between men and women with betrayal, love, and vengeance rearing its head throughout the tragicomedy.
The three-character play follows the lives of Gustav (Dion Mills), Adolf (Brett Cousins) and Tekla (Kat Stewart) over the course of an hour and half in real time. “It starts off with two men talking in a hotel lounge, or a shared common room in a sort of bohemian resort,” explains Mills. “They just start talking and later the wife of one of the characters comes in, and at the end of the play, one person is dead. It all starts off very leisurely and then it all turns into high drama.”
Mills is careful not to provide too much insight into his character but lets on that Gustav, “In a very casual way, starts unpicking the marriage [between Adolf and Tekla]. And it’s comedic in the way that he does that… There’s a lot of comedy in all the hysteria of the conclusion.”
During its stage debut in Copenhagen in 1890, Creditors was heralded by critics as being a controversial play for its time. Some even go as far as stating it was his most powerful work. Strindberg himself was renowned as being a playwright who created works that were so naturalistic in nature, people often believed he drew inspiration for his writings from his own life experiences - and Creditors is no different.
“The original was written shortly after Strindberg’s very messy separation from a woman he loved passionately,” says Mills. “It has a lot to do with male anxiety in the late 19th century about female emancipation and their independence, and what rights they had, and to what extent you actually possess somebody.”
Fresh from the wounds of his separation, Strindberg’s marital history included three marriages and an equal amount of divorces. The emotional content of Creditors rings a certain truism between human relationships that often borders on brutal. “It’s just so emotionally true – the way love turns to hatred, and the way chance can suddenly bring people into contact with each other, who have been exemplary up till now in their behaviour,” says Mills. “Your real nature breaks through when you suddenly have the opportunity to do harm.” And whilst some people have viewed Creditors as an unsympathetic treatment towards women, Mills interprets it from a different point of view.
“The wonderful thing is, the character he creates in Tekla, whether he intended to or not, is so feisty because she’s taken huge risks in her life,” he explains. “She’s become a novelist, she left her first husband, she’s taken up with a younger man, and she’s really pushing the boundaries in a way that we would take for granted now. She puts up a really strong fight in this play.” Red Stitch Theatre’s production of Creditors is one that nods to the period in which the play was written. Stylistically, the costumes and set design hints toward a late 19th century mode, but is by no means a costume drama. Rather, the themes the play explores is so universal that it transcends the fact it was written more than a 100 years ago, making the tale one that is relevant even today. And despite the cryptic description of play’s storyline, vengeance looms as a pivotal aspect of the show.
“You can’t actually want to hurt somebody unless you’re really twisted and love them too in a way. If you love them more than your own life then you’re probably willing to go in exactly the opposite direction,” says Mills. “It’s called Creditors because it’s about the emotional accounting in a sense – what you owe to the people who you love and love you, and what debts are incurred, and what gets paid back and what doesn’t - whether you can ever reconcile your emotional ledger.”
Red Stitch’s Creditors runs from November 17 until December 18, Wednesday – Saturday 8pm and Sundays at 6.30pm. You can book at redstitch.net.