The gloomy and ever so slightly sinister Gustav looks up from his paper. He tosses it aside and makes his move on the unsuspecting Adolph. Gustav is not really a very nice character; in his first scene he has this to say “you see, a girl cannot have freedom except by providing herself with a chaperon—or what we call a husband.” With such misogyny, you can understand my shock dear reader when I looked down to see Gustav’s paper… The Daily Mail, The Sun, the Oxstu you say. No dear reader; lying on the well-trod boards of the BT, Oxford’s Independent Student Newspaper, lay discarded. Surely man like Gustav couldn’t have read Cherwell…
Gustav’s journalistic tastes are probably the only redeeming feature in his character, a character whose villainy is otherwise attested from the minute he casts aside this beacon of journalistic excellence. Indeed, in this scene he is about to convince the poor Adolph of his wife’s infidelity and consequently impose upon him a Nietzsche inspired male suprematism (one begins to wonder which section he was reading…)
Gustav and the worst of late nineteenth century sexism that his character seems to embody, resembles precisely the sort of figure that his author, Strindberg, has often been accused of having been. Indeed it is said that at one point he called women “instinctively evil animals”. That Strindberg should thus paint a figure like Gustav so unsympathetically complicates how we should approach the play. This ambiguity director Christopher White tells me, is a central concern for his production.
This perhaps explains his and his cast’s preparation for the play. As self professed Stanislavkians they have spent copious amounts of time researching their characters and immersing themselves in the historical period of the play. They have even decided on what sort of paintings Adolph (who is an artist) would paint. This historicism is perhaps an attempt to get to the bottom of what was really going on when Strindberg wrote this, both personally and historically.
Whatever the truth was, the search for it has certainly translated into a great set of performances. In particular Isobel Jesper Jones is utterly convincing as the elusive Tecla, Adolph’s wife and the subject of a big revelation at the end of the play. Having been excellent in King Lear as Regan, Jones brings something of the enlarged presence needed for the O’reilly to great effect in the intimacy of the BT. Her playful, and at times jarringly perverse characterization (calling Adolph “little brother” with his head in hear hands), is central to unraveling how Strindberg really saw women and consequently represented them. Jones herself explains the challenge and the advantage of playing a character who is unceasingly talked about, but always by men.
Gustav played by Tom Lambert, has a very fun part to play, but one which he is avoiding turning into an easy pantomime esque villain by being generically sinister. I don’t how he will manage after the enormity of his opening stunt, but I shall be curious to see how he pulls its of. Finally Jake Boswell inhabits Adolph perfectly, there is a quiet and pathetic resignation about the look he gives Tecla and the submission of his voice as he talks to Gustav. It’s a very quietly brilliant performance and I’m sure it will suit the BT perfectly. I think perhaps ‘quietly brilliant’ will be true for the show as a whole.
Creditors will be running from Tuesday 5th to Saturday 9th of May