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No Way Out, White Bear Theatre – Review

Jean-Paul Sartre
Directed by Felix Schaaf and Tom van der Klugt

Pros: A very clever premise, and a surprisingly humorous take on Hell!

Cons: Do not see this while there’s football on in the pub. Just. Don’t.

Our verdict: Lively, well acted and interesting!

Courtesy of White Bear Theatre

The idea behind the play is a clever and modern take on Hell. Three souls arrive in the Inferno only to find the fires are not present – instead they are in a perfectly arranged IKEA showroom. They then take on the subject matter from No Way Out by Jean-Paul Sartre surrounded by bland and unpronounceable lamps and couches- devised to show a claustrophobic lack of personality. It’s a very interesting idea.

Anyone who has been to the White Bear will know it is a surprising location for a theatre. The stage is well hidden at the back of a sports pub. On this evening it was even more well-hidden by the hundreds of football fans packed in to watch Champions League football. After pushing through the thronging crowds, we found the theatre – with its doors closed. As we had arrived at 8 minutes prior to show time, we opened the doors, only to be briskly escorted back out to the bar, as the previous play was still going on. After the previous play ended, and the stage was re-shuffled, we got underway- 25 minutes late. It quickly became apparent that the crowds of football enthusiasts were not just present outside of the theatre; their shouts of joy and agony resonated very clearly inside the space as well. Although this can’t be blamed on the production team, it did hinder the enjoyment of the show.

Things got much better as the cheerful and friendly ‘Assistant’, Tamara Astor, set the scene for the actors and the audience. We then met the souls destined to spend eternity together, and began to understand the phrase summing up the evening – “hell is other people.” All characters arrived in various states of denial, acceptance and deep-rooted secrecy. Each had some of the more irritating aspects of their personalities on display, and this set the scene up nicely from the concept established by the characters that “each of us is the torturer for the other two.”

In some respects this was true – there were aspects of each character that annoyed the other two, but Katharine Mangold’s Ines was by far the most antagonistic and divisive of the characters. Ines pushes the others to their limits, despite their protests to be left alone. She feels dissimilar to the others in that way – she could realistically be the lone torturer in the room. She also did not devolve and break down from her tough-as-nails exterior in the same way that the other characters did. That she was not broken by hell – she almost enjoys it – added an interesting level to the context, but it was also a shame as the breaking down and de-evolution of the characters is the best part of the evening.

The coming apart of Thomas van der Klugt’s Garcin and Sophia Sibthorpe’s Estelle was really worth watching. Garcin sweats, paces and his appearance gets more disheveled as he becomes steadily more agitated. Sibthorpe is captivating as Estelle (delightfully snobbish yet secretly cold-blooded and cruel) and her carefully poised character’s unwinding was frenetic and energetic. Both van der Klugt and Sibthorpe do the descent into madness wonderfully, and the cabin fever they exude certainly spreads through the audience.

The running time feels longer than 1hr 15 min, as I suppose it should when you are meant to be present for all of eternity. The play is well acted, and the accordion playing adds a lovely atmospheric touch. The lighting changes allow for clearly defined flashbacks to time on earth, which provide excellent character insight.

The play would sit well across most age groups, and would resonate well with anyone who’s ever had to assemble a piece of flat pack furniture or had to deal with an annoying person in their immediate space – I presume that would be everyone, then. No Way Out is an enjoyable piece, but I imagine the venue is far more enjoyable when the show does not have to compete with the shouts and yells of the football supporters outside- although if anything, it does help drive home the message that hell is, indeed, other people.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!
No Way Out runs at White Bear Theatre until 21st September 2013.

Box Office: 0207 7793 9193 or book online

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