Huis Clos

3 out of 5 stars
Huis Clos
© Simon Kane Huis Clos

'Hell,' as Jean-Paul Sartre famously concluded in this very play, 'is other people.'

Some of the 'other people' he's so sniffy about might retort that two hours of unadulterated Sartre is their idea of hell. But that's the essential point of Sartre's ageing-but-influential drama, in which three departed souls are banged up in a room together to torment each other psychologically for all eternity.

If you're historically curious, fascinated by mind-games and possess a narrow bottom, you'll enjoy Paul Hart's revival of 'Huis Clos', performed on Lucy Osborne's shabby antique set in the unforgivingly close quarters of the Trafalgar's studio space.

'Huis Clos' is part of the Donmar young directors' season here and Hart rises to the challenge of this claustrophobic, talky classic: a lack of sexual chemistry between the actors and – especially at this distance – slightly awkward erotic confrontations are the only elements in his interval-free staging that don't work effectively.

Claustrophobia aids tension, and the studio, while not quite as hot as hell, is aptly intense. Sartre imagined his male protagonist more sympathetically than the two women who torture him with their incessant needs, but Will Keen does a good job of making Garcin sinister, analysing the situation in a cruel monotone from which all hope has been drained, and twitching his mask-like face to reveal the fear that dwells within.

Fiona Glascott and Michelle Fairley add melodrama as selfish beauty Estelle and evil Sapphic postal clerk Ines. It's hell for them all right, but – thanks to the dramatic tension, which rarely slackens – the audience is free to appreciate but not to share the suffering of the beautiful damned.

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