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Review: No Exit

No Exit Review Lots of hell and sin to kick off the Mermaids’ Candlemas Semester. The first show of the semester has just closed its doors (locked it up, threw away the keys, and so on and so forth) and the second has just opened theirs, and so we shall begin with the second night of No Exit.

Willa Meloth and Annalise Roberts directed, and Hannah Savage produced, Jean-Paul Sartre's No Exit. Three strangers are escorted into a nondescript room upon their death and informed they are now in hell. The trio, confused at the lack of S&M gear, speculate what is so torturous about their environment, while also getting on each others’ nerves. Eventually they reach the conclusion that ‘Hell is other people’, realising their tormentors are each other, amd were not placed together not at random, but instead because they will perfectly annoy one another into infinity.

What immediately sets the show apart in the ecosystem of St Andrew theatre is its transformation of the Barron - it’s the first show I’ve seen there in the round, and it was a highly effective use of the black box theatre, opening up the more restricted performance space so that characters can really use their stage without having to worry about accidentally toppling off the three inch platform. I also really liked the set, three aesthetically at-odds couches all backed up against each other - very symbolic. It also meant that each segment of the audience were confronted by their own lost soul. Personally I was in the Estelle corner, and therefore got to experience the full effect of Emily Christaki’s furrowed brow.

In terms of this being a Gay Play, it actually is! Main character Inez (India Koulb) is a demonic lesbian sent from the post office to do nothing else other than flirt with pretty women and cockblock annoying men. She’s also quite interesting in a more analytical way (as opposed to the usual girlboss-yassified-brainrot way I tend to write these reviews). Moving more towards a review of Sartre’s text than Meloth and Robert’s staging of it, the function and representation of Inez as a lesbian is very interesting.

Inez is an ‘Irredeemable’ inherently, she has been rightfully cast to hell for her self-proclaimed love of cruelty, existing as a ‘hot coal’ in the hearts of those she encounters, and gaining genuine satisfaction from the degradation of those she proclaims to love. She is more than a Bad Woman, she is a Bad Lesbian. She will weasel her way into your heterosexual romance, bed the woman and kill the man. She goes for the straight girls, looks at them, touches them, tempts them. She will interrupt your heterosexual pairing with her presence, stare you down, insult you, and stop you. I would not criticise this portrayal of lesbians as homophobic, because if you’re showing up to a show set in hell you probably shouldn’t expect outstanding citizens to take to the stage, however to pretend like Inez isn’t one of the founding examples of media’s Crazy Lesbian trope would be incorrect. What I find a far more compelling lens of analysis for her role in the show is her function as torturer of the Bad Heterosexuals.

Garcin (Freddie Lawson) is a serial adulterer, his first confession as to why he may have been sent to hell was how poorly he treated his wife - offering the time he loudly had sex with a woman while she was in the house and then had her serve the pair coffee the next morning, for which he is rightfully called a ‘Brute’ by Inez. Through the snippets the Damned are shown of how the world moves one following their passings, Garcin continues his disregard for his wife - he repeatedly complains about being shown mostly how she has been affected by his death rather than his friends, and mocks her attempts to save him from execution. And, on the note of his execution, Garcin is also a Bad Man - he is a “coward,” a deserter of the Spanish Civil war trying to pass for a pacifist, who was shot dead for trying to flee to France instead of fighting. His eventual pursuit of Estelle is motivated almost entirely as a means to spite Inez - who has an unreciprocated desire for Estelle herself. He barks commands at Estelle, very much aware that she is desperate for his approval and therefore willing to do anything for him, even fruitlessly stabbing Inez at one point.

Estelle has also been unfaithful, though unlike her peers that is less of a mortal sin. She married young to an older, richer man as a means of providing for herself and her brother, and had an affair with a younger man who unintentionally impregnated her. Though she does not want to keep the baby, he does, and so she covertly moves to Switzerland for the final five months of her pregnancy. The baby is born, and rather than accommodate the child and her lover, she rejects motherhood wholly; throwing her baby from a hotel balcony, much to the dismay of its father, who promptly shoots himself. Estelle is a Bad Woman: she is a bad wife, a bad mother, a narcissist and horny - all things that women simply cannot possibly be, and so she is in hell, tormented by the desire of a lesbian and rejection of a man.

So, Garcin is a Bad Man, Estelle a Bad Woman, they are also Bad at Heterosexuality, and, therefore, are sent to be tortured for eternity by Inez, a Bad Lesbian. Though her personality does indeed come at odds with the others’ - especially Garcin - because of how sexually driven a lot of the conflict is, it definitely feels that

in a broader sense, Inez functions as a homosexual thorn in the side of hetero.

Anyways, apologies for the tangent, it's quite rare that the stuff I review is actually gay so I figured I could indulge with this one. In terms of acting, the show was very strong - the script is an easy one to butcher; there is no change of set, little to interact with, and reliant entirely on the clashing of three personalities for the action of the show. It is a necessity that the actors are compelling in their portrayals for the show to be enjoyable, and that was indeed the case. Since seeing her in Mrs Warrens’ Profession last semester I have deemed Koulb as perhaps the cuntiest performer in St Andrews, and she delivered an Inez that was utterly in her element. Forever gazing, and observing, and posing, she is calculating and confrontational in her assertion as self, which was absolutely perfect for her character. Lawson’s Garcin was an excellently arrogant, self-assured womaniser - as detestable as he was pitiful. He worked very well as a straight man, in more than the established sense. Garcin was a sensible middleman between the aloof Inez and frenzied Estelle, but his own attempted passivity seemed to annoy even himself, becoming restless in his repeating sulks. And Estelle was equally as compelling, it would have been easy for a lesser actor to reduce her character to a one-note hysteric woman, but Christaki pulls her vulnerability and desperation to the forefront, offering the most sympathetic performance of the cast. Rather than the more stilted confessions of Inez and Garcin, her airy divulgence that she threw her baby into a river was a breath of fresh air in the stuffy-hot-hell room. It also should be mentioned that Max Fryer’s Valet was sufficiently off-putting, in a Saw puppet meets sleazy barman kind of way. There was an inhumanness to his cadence which was impressively done considering he is presumably mortal - but I don’t know this man, so maybe he is a demon.

Though a good section of this review did focus on Sartre’s script - it is rare that a student play can pull from me actual Thoughts and Feelings, and that is entirely due to how admirably the script was dealt with. Both the performers and backstage took this difficult and existential play and put it on with gusto - by god did I have people choking on each other's tongues in front of me. The lack of hesitation towards any aspect was incredibly impressive. So, if the prospect of deep thoughts, an actually gay character, Bad Heterosexuals, and sleazebags entices you to see the show… It’s over! Too bad! No more dates!

By Kilda


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