“L’enfer, c’est les autres”
Some things will never change, one of them being my complete lack of ability to say ‘no thanks’ when offered a free theatre ticket, no matter how much I know I will not like the show. Jean-Paul Sartre’s Huis Clos did not hold much interest for me when initially announced and as it apparently sold out very quickly, it seemed done and dusted. But circumstances prevailed upon me to be a plus one for a colleague and so off we went to the Trafalgar Studios studio space.
Huis Clos forms the final part of the Donmar Warehouse’s Resident Associate Director scheme and Paul Hart is the director being given the opportunity to showcase his talents here. Unfortunately for me, the play he chose was this ‘existentialist masterpiece’, written in 1944 and clearly a heavy influence on Samuel Beckett. I don’t ‘get’ Beckett, I’ve yet to really enjoy one of his plays or really understand what place he is coming from, that connection has never materialised for me. And so it was with Huis Clos: Sartre creates a hell of our own making in which three protagonists are trapped in an intolerable (or is it…) waiting game.
As one would expect from these productions, the casting is fairly top-notch. Michelle Fairley, Fiona Glascott and Will Keen play the three people escorted into this windowless room, by Thomas Padden’s grim valet, and they soon come to realise that they are in fact dead, in hell and carefully selected to drive each other crazy. Eventually we come to discover the crimes they committed to end up here rather than in Heaven but I have to say, I had long stopped caring about any of it at that point. The dull, meandering play shredded my patience, the heat of the theatre tried its damnedest to lull me to sleep (only the fear of being seen snoozing by more people than usual stopped me – this is in-the-round by the way) and had there been an interval, I can safely say I wouldn’t have returned.
Perhaps recognising that the play doesn’t really go anywhere aside from round and round the circles of hell, Hart has allowed his actors to overcompensate and almost disintegrate as they become increasingly hysterical. But this just pulls them even further from likeability, or even recognition as human characters, that I never once felt like I wasn’t watching actors performing. Even Fairley, an actress whom I like immensely, fell victim to this trap whether intentionally or not: in the end though, this was close to unwatchable for me.