No Exit?

Mon 17th – Sat 29th August 2015


Caspar Jacobs

at 12:04 on 19th Aug 2015



No Exit? is an adaptation of Sartre's No Exit (without a question mark) by M+E theatre. It is unclear what the fundamental departure from the original is. One description says Sartre's characters are meeting at the gates of heaven, instead of hell as found in the original. Another website mentions that the play is about who put them in hell in the first place, their own guilt or god. However, there was no mention of heaven or god in the play, which followed the synopsis of Sartre's version closely. No Exit? is rather a modernised version of No Exit.

No Exit is famous mostly for producing a classic Sartre quote: “Hell is the Other”. The idea behind this is that, according to the existentialist philosopher, we can look at ourselves as if we were objects by considering the presence of other people who look at us. In Sartre's words: “It is that The Other is hell, because... when we think about ourselves, when we try to know ourselves... we use the knowledge of us which other people already have. We judge ourselves with the means other people have and have given us for judging ourselves.”

The M+E play is, in my understanding, misinterpreting Sartre. The show tried to make it obvious that, in this imagination of hell, there was no torturer who makes you burn in eternal flames; there are just the other people who continually annoy you. In this case it's three sinners who are stuck together in a room. Hence “hell is other people”, as M+E decided to translate the French quote. But this is decidedly not the point. It's not that other people make you feel miserably directly – make your life hell. It is that through other people we observe ourselves. Therefore, we might reflect badly on ourselves, because we reflect badly in other people.

Within this new interpretation (that's rather pessimistic about our interpersonal relations) the play worked well. Sean Higgs played the (quite literally) eternally annoyed Joseph Garcin, a traitor, convincingly. Melissa Jean Woodside's Inez, the most sympathetic character in the play, was a welcome contrast to Michelle van Rensburg, whose hysterical Estelle was a bit too much, especially considering Estelle should be a sophisticated lady. But the best character kept largely on the background. The sarcastic and sardonic valet played by Magnus Sinding provided some light relief with his played pity and casual cleaning of the room.

After all, No Exit? provided some interesting food for philosphical thought while at the same time being a decent take on Sartre's difficult play.


Hannah Matthews

at 12:10 on 19th Aug 2015



Sitting at the gates of heaven is a daunting prospect; it’s an equally daunting foundation for a play. Luckily, M+E Theatre were able to take Sartre’s No Exit as inspiration and follow the plot loosely. I must here admit complete ignorance of Sartre’s works and so this review will focus entirely on the play as an entity in its own right rather than delving into the meaning or interpretations.

For a play entitled No Exit?, I particularly enjoyed the setting in the round entrapping the actors by audience members who you felt sat as a silent jury throughout the play. The actors themselves were of a good standard. Magnus Sniding should be particularly commended for his unnerving portrayal of the valet, including piercing stares and a fascinating ability not to blink. However, Michelle van Rensburg’s evidently purposefully silly character, Estelle, moved beyond dramatic purpose into hysterical overacting. A slight tone change for Estelle would better match the tone of the production.

Attempts at audience participation were made as Sniding encouraged the audience to come up and circle the actors on stage while filming their confessions on their phones. This could have been highly effective. However, without audience participation until this point, the majority of us appeared tentative to break the fourth wall. Most of the audience, having diligently turned our phones off at the start of the performance, were sat fumbling trying to turn their phones on which delayed any potential participation. Instead, keeping the jury like audience that would have been more suited to the scene.

Promotional material assured me I would leave contemplating asking life’s big existential questions; why am I here, who put me here, a god or your own guilt? This was all slightly lost on me and I left rather more superficially considering if I’d be safe in the afterlife, and whether I’d done anything so far to deserve such a fate.

Criticisms aside, No Exit? was a genuinely thought =-provoking play that kept me interested throughout. While fans of Sartre may have queries about the interpretation or delivery of lines, as a novice I can assure you you’ll leave contemplating some significant issues.


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