first night

No Exit

Carrie Gaunt passes a pleasant evening in hell with CTC's 'No Exit'

 

I love, love, love No Exit. It's the most tremendously biting (was there ever a more damning indictment of the human race than 'Hell is other people'?), angry and bleakly comic piece of theatre; fairly crackling with tension, both sexual and otherwise. Barring a few minor tweaks, CTC's production of Sartre's misanthropic classic is excellent, and (in its quality if not its subject matter) a fitting end to the company's theatrical year.

The Norman Chapel's problematic acoustics and sightlines make its use as a theatrical space something of a risk, but in this instance I believe it was a risk worth taking (although, as a disclaimer, I had plumped for a seat in the front row, far away from any of the dreaded pillars, so can't speak for how audience members fared further back, or on the fringes). Director Eleanor Hinchcliffe should be commended for intelligent, well-thought out blocking and it is tremendously to her credit that the space never felt cramped or crowded, as is so often the case in more intimate venues. I am genuinely impressed at the amount of space she managed to give their actors to work with in such a tiny room - No Exit has the potential to be terribly static (perhaps inevitably so given the subject matter) and the production team have clearly taken pains to guard against this. A minor criticism on this score is that I feel the actors could have filled the space slightly more than they did. A lovely moment where Garcin (Joe Stanton) did nothing more complicated than leaning contemplatively on a pillar was incredibly exciting - by forcing the action further into the audience and getting tantalisingly close to the fourth wall, a very simple and natural gesture added an entirely new dimension to the staging, which had an almost palpable effect on ramping up the sense of claustrophobia which is intrinsic to the text.

The actors (Stanton, Josie Williams, Shona Graham and Mike Bedigan in a brief but darkly witty turn as the Valet) are a very strong ensemble and manipulate each other skillfully - I hope they will take this in the spirit in which it is intended when I say that they make it very obvious how unbearable it would be to spend eternity in each other's company. Graham in particular is a wonderful Estelle, brittle and taut, and expertly controlling her loss of self until she reaches an actually very poignant pitch of desperation. Williams, as Inez, is a fantastic counterpoint to this, bitter and sardonic, prowling around the space like a petulant tiger ready to pounce and just oozing malevolence. Finally, Stanton manages to let Garcin's inherently weak nature shine through at intervals, whilst also maintaining an increasingly desperate facade of brutality and toughness. I felt he perhaps reached his heights of anger a little too early, given that, as the first to enter, the onus is largely on Garcin to set the tone for the strained hour and a half to come, but this is a minor criticism.

Indeed, my main gripe with this production was a sense that everything was just a bit too rushed. I feel that all the actors can afford to take more time with their lines, particularly the longer, reminiscent monologues. Drawing these out a little more could result in some incredibly haunting moments - a chilliness was hovering on the fringes of last night's production but I never felt a real shiver down my spine, as I would have liked to have done. I appreciate that first night nerves may play a part here, and, practically, dragging out a one-act play for anything longer than an hour and a half is not likely to go down well with audience members. However, I do feel that the best way to communicate not only the abject horror but also the eternality of the fate the characters are condemned to is through slowness. Don't be afraid of stillness and uncomfortable silences, of allowing the tension to lie in the air and be stretched to breaking point - embrace it. No Exit shouldn't be a comfortable viewing experience, after all.

However, these negligible niggles aside, CTC should be very proud of themselves for a consummately well-acted, well-directed and intelligent production on which to close the curtain on this year's theatrical endeavours. A night of existentialist introspection has never been so devilishly enjoyable - catch it while you can.

 

13 June 2015

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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