Theatre I missed – No Exit (Theatre Review)

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No Exit

Fuse Box, The Factory Theatre.

At the time of publishing this review this production is closed. Search for more information here.

“Ideology does not reside primarily in stories invented (by those in power) to deceive others, it resides in stories invented by subjects to deceive themselves.” (Against the Double Blackmail by Slavoj Zizek)

“Ines: [We must try] To forget about the others? How utterly absurd! I feel you there, in every pore. Your silence clamors in my ears. You can nail your mouth shut, cut your tongue out- but you can’t prevent your being there. Can you stop your thoughts? I hear them ticking away like a clock, tick-tock, tick-tock, and I’m certain you hear mine…” (No Exit John Paul Sartre)

No Exit is one of my favourite plays, but until I saw it performed at The Fuse Box by Throwing Shade Theatre Company, I didn’t realise how culturally relevant it is today. What is our relationship to our immigrant friends, from the martyred boat people and the rage and fury of the ISIS terrorist, if it is not being locked in eternity with An Other who is both foreign to us and a mirror to our behaviours? It is worth remembering that the Islamic State is also a big mafia trading company selling ancient statues, oil, female slaves, cotton and arms, driven not by religious fundamentalism but the dark underclass of capitalism and corruption by product. Religion is the mantle tossed over the top to comply with societal expectations. It is in the actions we see the underbelly of capitalism at work in the same ugly structures we see elsewhere in the third world since its rise. Aggression against Western culture is a moot point. Since the invasion of Iraq and the formation of ISIS, we have incorporated these folk into our system allotting them the role of the abused apprentice, pretending they are too busy resisting Western culture to notice their own slavery. Perhaps the rise of violence is more akin to that which has been reserved for all working class who rise up in terrific violence against their exploitative masters? And yet, what John Paul Sartre saw, and the Western liberal cannot, is that confessing our crimes will change nothing. Neither is the anger and aggression of the far right going to make a difference. It is not our confessions or our anger those who would steal our life want, it is removal of the privilege we have bestowed upon ourselves. We are locked for eternity in a room with this Other (and many other repeating narratives) and there is nothing we can do about it. As Ines would say, we are each other’s torturers.

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Existentialism may be out of fashion these days but its principle of living an authentic life in the face of this Other is not. Seen as the only possible answer to the absurd and distressing truth of life trapped with The Other, ones commitment to an examined life laced with authentic action is the offered as the only possible relief. In No Exit, Garcin claims at the end, to continue is all there is. Sartre then spends a great deal of the play examining what authenticity means. Garcin inauthentically seeks Estelle’s love because he feels her femaleness will make him the male he longs to be, while Estelle seeks Garcin in the hope he will be man enough to define her properly as woman. Only Ines declares her evil nature, is comfortable in confessing her sins and knows not to forgive Garcin for his short term comfort. But even Ines is in hell, side by side with her other torturers, and offered no relief from Sartre.

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In Andrew Langcake’s version of No Exit emphasis is placed on characterization above all else. We are free to see a modern day version of ourselves in these people. Harley Connor’s Garcin is a troubled and lost man. His hatred of his faithful wife and his flaunting of his affairs under her nose speak to a jealousy of her piety and the strength she has gained through the control of her desire. This comes out in the lines about Garcin’s escape from military service. In Connor’s Garcin it never takes much for us to clearly see Garcin’s bad faith. His affairs inform the self loathing perpetuated by labeling his desertion passivism. Courtney Powell is Estelle, dressed to the nines and donning a tall emphatic blonde wig. She is every bit Sartre’s interpretation of blind objectivity, social stature and sexual perversion. Powell’s Estelle only exists to seek admiration, to quell her enormous appetite to be coveted. Estelle rejects the admiration of Ines, but Powell plays her soaking it up regardless, showing a lighthearted disdain for the man who impregnated her. Darcie Irwin-Simpson rounds out the three with her portrayal of Ines, one of the best I have seen. She wears her evil with a haughty disdain that is unbearably seductive. Ines is our openly evil character, the one who confesses to manipulating her lover for whom she had no respect. But she is also honest in her self-appraisal and Irwin-Simpsons intelligent superiority gives this role an unpleasant acknowledgement that rings particularly true with capitalist virtues of the individual today.

Accents are spot on, and Jeff Hampson is a charismatic and appropriately distanced Valet. The set remains true to tradition and engulfs the audience properly in the small Fuse Box Theatre. This production of No Exit takes advantage of the enormity of the play while equally drawing the audience in to a more accessible modern day experience.

This production of No Exit has completed its run at the time of this review, but keep an eye on the Throwing Shade Theatre Company website for opportunities to see this and or other productions in the future.

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