No Exit (Huis Clos)

No Exit (Huis Clos)

Directed by Andy Kerr
The Casa, Liverpool
7th – 9th February 2018

Reviewed by Finvola Dunphy

“Hell is other people.” The standard clichéd phrase that either repels or entices people to Jean-Paul Satre’s dark, sinister and deeply funny play, ‘No Exit.’ The phrases refers to the eternal ontological struggle of being caused to see oneself as an object from the view of another’s consciousness.

Liverpool Network Theatre Group’s version intertwines the fundamental aspects of French existentialism with a delivery that wholly resonates in our current let’s say, tumultuous climate.

If you long for escapism or light-hearted jovial fun, turn away now. All of the darkness of the human condition swims off the stage and shivers up the spine of each and every audience member in this chilling reflection of harsh reality. There is no higher power or redemption after death. Nor is there a fiery red satanic creature with horns and a long tail waiting for you in purgatory. There is only other people. In this case, three protagonists who have been condemned to hell after committing serious crimes.

The plays minimalistic style ensures that there are no aesthetic distractions. Just three benches and three actors was all that was needed to re-create the liminal, claustrophobic spacing that Satre intended. The French title of this 1944 classic, ‘huis clos’ literally means ‘in camera’, referencing a private conversation that takes place behind closed doors. What makes this place exciting is that we are all privy to the discussion and its power to torment.

A demanding play for any actor who has to remain in character for a full 90 minutes, whilst retaining an immense amount of dialogue. William O’Neill, Saoirse Crean, Eve Smith and Becky Downing did a fantastic job of providing utterly engaged performances. The comedic timing was particularly brilliant, making for a fluid and humorous exchange of dialogue that clearly resonated judging by the audience’s response.

For the majority, the protagonists can see the external, living world which was performed with a particular focus that drew the audience in as if they could see it too. I peered around the intimate back-room theatre at this point only to see all eyes utterly fixated on the actor’s insights into the real world.

To pull off Satre’s dark but illuminating play requires great actors who are fluid and engaging. Liverpool Network Theatre Group certainly delivered, and the fluctuation of emotions throughout brought these elements of light and shade to life making this play in which nothing happens, mesmerising and eventful

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