Pros: A fascinating script; finely drawn performances from the entire cast.
Cons: I can see that the play might be a bit too metaphysical for some tastes, but I don’t have any cons to mention here.
Huis Clos (translated as No Exit) is a hugely influential drama by the 20th century French philosopher and playwright Jean-Paul Sartre. It the source of the famous saying, ‘hell is other people’. I must confess I was not familiar with the play prior to attending Second Skin Theatre’s production at the Rosemary Branch Theatre. I was utterly won over by this skilful and gripping production.
First performed in 1944, the drama has an ingenious set up. At the start of the play, three recently-deceased characters are escorted into their living quarters in hell. It is not at all what they expected. There’s no fire, no sulphur, no pitchforks, just an elegant, if somewhat shabby, sitting room, and a devilishly handsome waiter. Gradually they realize that there is no physical torture in hell, only psychological, and that the three of them have been selected to spend eternity together because they are destined to drive one another mad; they are one another’s torturers.
This infernal triangle consists of: Garcin, played here by George Collie, a weak and cowardly man who deserted during wartime, in line with the play’s WWII origins; Ines, Charly Flyte, a lesbian postal worker, simmering, snarky, and manipulative; and Estelle, played by Eloise Black, a pampered and shallow socialite. Ines is immediately attracted to Estelle, but Estelle has eyes only for Garcin, and Garcin is attracted to no one in the room. And so they form a love triangle, and we watch the sex and power games play out. One of the play’s pleasures is the slow revelation of why each character has been damned. It is also intriguing to watch them become spectators of life on earth, which cruelly moves on without them.
In a lesser production, I can imagine this play could become tedious. Here, however, the chemistry among the central trio is delicious and the tension is ratcheted to a high degree. All three central cast members create stunning psychological portraits, though I must admit a particular admiration for Charly Flyte’s turn as the erotic and malicious Ines. Rounding off the cast, Sam Watson is suitably chilling as the mysterious waiter who escorts the damned to their eternal home.
The Rosemary Branch is a cosy and friendly pub, which serves good food. The theatre inside is tiny but this setting perfectly suits the play by capturing the claustrophobia experienced by the three central characters. I found this philosophical drama fascinating from start to finish.
Author: Jean-Paul Sartre
Director: Andy McQuade
Producer: Second Skin Theatre
Booking Until: 2nd February 2014
Box Office: 020 7704 6665
Booking Link: http://www.rosemarybranch.co.uk/#/huis-clos/4581707293