Tuesday, 25 August 2009

No Way Out - Southwark Playhouse

No Way Out by Jean-Paul Sartre
English version by Frank Hauser
Director: Luke Kenaghan
Choreographer:Kele Baker
Reviewer: Leon Trayman

Satre’s No Way Out (Huis Clos) discusses the lives and subsequent fates of three people. A Journalist, Socialite and Postal Worker. The play opens on an empty cell-like enclosure with over-turned chairs, three tables, a bronze bust, television monitor and intercom.

The Journalist; Garçan (played by Miguel Oyarzun) is first to arrive and has a stilted and awkward conversation with the disembodied voice of an Orwellian Big Brother style character speaking through the intercom. Next is the Post Office worker Inez (played by Elisa de Grey) who – it becomes clear – has arrived expecting a torturer and a room filled with the accoutrements associated with such a profession, but is confused when confronted with a slightly frightened and solitary Garçan. Finally, the socialite Estelle (played by Alexis Terry) arrives, pushed sharply into the room, hiding her face and screaming at what she expects to see…the faceless ghost of her former lover.

Having collected herself, she begins to deal with the situation as though it is all a big mistake; dismissing the intercom voice, telling him “I will ring for you if I need you”. We eventually discover that all three of the characters are dead; and find themselves thrust together for eternity. It is at this point that they all realize that they are here to torture each other!

It seems that the main questions posed by Satre are a) what form of punishment could one receive after death, having committed horrific crimes during life, b) why are human beings so driven by their sexual urges? and c) do the characters find themselves in hell or purgatory? Unfortunately, as an audience member I would have to suggest the latter!

The sexual themes of the piece are catalyzed by Inez’s sexually aggressive lesbian advances and almost immediate infatuation with Estelle. This seems to force Estelle (who is heterosexual) to run into the arms of Garçan – the only man present. Causing what should be a horrendously awkward situation… Stylistically, this production is neither one thing nor the other.

Luke Kernaghan’s experimentation with the inclusion of Argentinean Tango sounded like a magnificent idea in the programme notes, but often clouded the clarity of an otherwise dramatic moment. Almost all movement of the characters was Tango, there were moments of real movement, but the whole piece feels too choreographed. This would be anticipated for a dance production or even – in some cases – physical theatre, however the movements of the actors fail to be a manifestation of the emotional reactions or thoughts of the characters. Whilst proficiently performed, it consistently detracted from the often horrific confessions of characters.

The use of the intercom telephone receiver seemed utterly superfluous as just moments earlier it was clear that the voice could hear the questions and protestations of the characters without the use of the clearly redundant receiver. During the moments of character reverie, often indecipherably faint images were projected onto the stage right wall, but I am unsure whether they were intended to illustrate the images seen by the character speaking, or were images relating to another narrative sub-plot. The performers all work extremely hard, giving muscular and graceful performances, each dancing with ease and focused intention. Sadly these intentions did not make their way the expositional sections of dialogue.

The production lacks the tension and drama that the script cries out for, leaving me regularly checking my watch, just in case I too had plunged unknowingly into purgatory! Unfortunately, sitting in the middle of a row, and in a medium sized studio space, there really was No Way Out!

No Way Out runs at the Southwark Playhouse until the 12th Sept
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