Take two Whingers. Take two Strindberg virgins.
Of course they’re one and the same. Or two and the same.
Incredible isn’t it that the Whingers had never ever seen a play by August Strindberg considering he’s one of those playwrights like Shakespeare, Ibsen, Chekhov and err… Pinter where the Christian name is utterly redundant.
Particularly incredible since Andrew and Strindberg have something in common, both being named after a month of the year. Andrew was originally given the name”June”, but dropped that notable moniker a few years ago as it didn’t suit him.
Anyway, off the Whingers trudged to Creditors at the Donmar Warehouse with their usual open minds but not sure quite what to expect.
And clearly they weren’t the only ones who felt a bit out of their depth because – unusually for a Monday night – the Donmar Warehouse wasn’t packed to the rafters.
Set in the chalky lounge of a seaside hotel in Sweden (nice set by Ben Stones), crutch-using painter-turned-sculptor Adolph (Tom Burke – marvellously pathetic) is awaiting the return of his wife.
During her absence he has been befriended by a mysterious stranger (Owen Teale – marvellously manipulative) who insinuates himself into Adolph’s mind, poisoning his feelings for his wife and his faith in his artistic abilities.
Who is this stranger and why is he doing this? The Whingers must have been fairly sober as it didn’t take either of them long to work it out.
But with the first element of suspense comfortably excised the Whingers’ addled minds were free to worry about more pressing concerns: How could such private conversations be held in the public lounge of a hotel? Were there no other guests at the hotel? Was this the low season? Was there a credit crunch in Sweden in 1888? And why was the set dominated by two day beds which caused havoc with their sight lines? Or were they chaise longues? (they are referred to in translator David Greig‘s text as “sofas”). Perhaps it was a bedroom?
But anyway, the day beds. Alan Rickman‘s direction hadn’t really taken account of the furniture which is, after all, one of the director’s primary tasks. The first scene features just Adolph and the stranger, usually seated on the day beds and arranged in a direct line with Phil’s seat (stalls A39). The second scene when Adolph’s wife Tekla (Anna Chancellor) turns up saw her frequently masked by Adolph. And the third scene between Tekla and the stranger gave Phil further opportunity to admire the tailoring on the back of Owen Teale’s coat.
Capping it all off was the climactic scene played out on the floor of the Donmar’s stage between the day beds (of course). Phil and Andrew found themselves in the unusual position of having to bend down to look under the furniture to get even a glimpse of the action; and the Whingers don’t bend easily these days. They are however able to report that unlike the gargantuan fluff balls under the furnishings in Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks, the Donmar keep a very tidy house indeed. Commendable.
The Whingers were, as always, mindful of their public and thorough in their research: they checked out the seat directly across the stage from Phil’s and can report that seat A3 should also be avoided.
Warning number 2: The set is surrounded by a pool of dark water. Take care if you’re in the front row. Phil nearly provided the biggest laugh of the evening by not noticing and nearly put his foot in it (not for the first time).
Worryingly, the pool didn’t have that warning whiff of chlorine that on-stage pools usually emit. This is potentially a positively malarial mosquito-attracting stagnant pool (despite the nice dripping sound effects). The Whingers wished they’d brought their left-over DEET from Africa
It is possible, of course,t hat Phil simply couldn’t smell the chlorine due to having arrived freshly marinated in the stuff from his daily swimming regime (He is preparing for the 2012 Olympics).*
But despite their cavils, David Greig’s new version of Creditors proved generally engaging. Strindberg spoke to the Whingers with his thoroughly squalid tale of obsession, deceit, revenge, cruelty and all round general nastiness. It was something they could certainly relate to.
And at 90 minutes with no interval it ticked another of the Whingers’ boxes, despite both feeling that it could have been trimmed by another 10 from the earlier moments; some people are never satisfied.
Andrew felt a bit dizzy from all the similes and metaphors in use but apart from that had little to complain about other than the miserable faces on the cast as they took their curtain calls. Was this from their dissatisfaction with their performances? They weren’t that bad. Or had Mr Rickman told them to do this? Either way, it was very grim and if you’re going to do draining psychological drama for 90 minutes non-stop you might as well reward the audience with a bit of a smile. This is showbusiness, after all.
Phil now feels moved to invest in a pair of day beds so when Andrew makes one of rare visits to Phil’s salon he won’t have to look at him. Who would have guessed Strindberg could be so inspiring?
* To be honest, Phil’s participation in 2012 is just a pipedream. It is a very long time indeed since Phil’s swimming heyday. If you look very closely you can just glimpse Phil doing the doggy-paddle in the bottom left corner of one of Leni‘s little films. Sadly the acquatic works in which he participated alongside other famous swimmers went out of fashion long ago.