‘No Exit’ at the Drama Barn

The play’s production at the Drama Barn felt as claustrophobic and voyeuristic as it should do

Jean-Paul Sartre’s 1944 existentialist play leaves the audience with a bitter taste in their mouths, chewing on the misery and exhaustion of an eternal existence as well as humanity’s ability and apparent desire to inflict torture on itself. Its famous quote, “Hell is other people”, draws a frighteningly true conclusion to the play.

Three deceased characters, Garcin (Angus Bower-Brown), Inès (Elvie Broom) and Estelle (Miranda Bakti-Braun), are punished in the afterlife by being eternally locked in a room together. At first, none of them will admit the reason for their damnation, with Garcin deciding they should ignore one another completely in an attempt to avoid conflict, however the cutting Inès gradually pushes them to each make their surprising confessions. The seemingly courteous Garcin, who wears military dress, is a coward and abuser, petulant Inès seduced her cousin’s wife while living with them, and prim Estelle had an affair and killed the resultant child, leading to its father’s suicide. The three characters soon discover that they are to be each others’ torturer, as they force one another to relive their individual miseries and suffer from false loves.

The play’s production at the Drama Barn felt as claustrophobic and voyeuristic as it should do. Already writhing from being shown to my seat by the terrifyingly polite ‘hell’s valet’, I was further disconcerted by the starkly ordinary set. Sartre’s play focuses on an abuse of the ordinary and the lighting and set reflected this.

The cast acted impressively for a play that demands three members on stage for its entirety. Angus Bower-Brown’s Garcin appeared intimidating in his weakness, Elvie Broom’s Inès was knowing and bitter, although at times a few lines would have been more effective if not said as always through gritted teeth. Sam Zak’s valet was creepy on the way in, but seemed a little too over the top when compared with the deliberate normality of the other characters. However, Miranda Bakti-Braun’s Estelle was the highlight of the show as her proper, pretentious character slowly unfolded into a compulsive narcissist. Estelle also provided some of the only moments of humour which were a welcome break in such an intense play.

The DramaSoc’s production of the play therefore leaves the audience suitably dissatisfied and confused by the conflation between the humanity and inhumanity of its characters. No Exit, like all good existentialist plays, pushes its audience to question the absurdity of their existence, and the disappointing afterlife it provides suggests there is a hell on Earth.