Two hours of dialogue set in the same, Victorian-style drawing room doesn’t jump out to me as a performance; in fact, I’d ordinarily be deterred. But the difference from what one may expect, is that No Exit is set in hell, the heat of which only stirs up the growing tension in the room.
Sarte guides us to think about life, death, and all of the anxieties in between in his 1944 existentialist drama, Theatre Group’s remake of which, captures the essence with integrity, tact and originality. Despite the minimal set of 3 chairs, a closed door and a bronze on a pedestal, the sadistic dialogue and powerful exchanges between the characters contract and suffocate the audience so that every few seconds we’re granted a breath of fresh air.
The concept is simple: deceased sinners are placed in a room together, for all of eternity, this being their punishment. However, they aren’t told what they’re in hell for, leaving the characters stuck inside their own minds, with the other two suffocating and pushing them further into themselves. Questions of morality and the self, as well as issues of society arise, leaving the characters unable to conclude, because, well, there’s never going to be an end for them. The trio of actors who portrayed the protagonists did a remarkable job with the weight of the script, interchangeably guiding the dialogue as their characters, but also allowing the language to lead their performance. Joel David’s (Garcin), Kate Winter’s (Ines) and Liv Moon’s (Estelle) versions of the characters fit the roles that Sarte intended – a heartless and cowardly husband, a rich baby-murderer and a poor, seducing lesbian – but did so with an added complexity and realism that brought them into the 21st century.
Image credit: stage.leeds.ac.uk