Review: Huis Clos

Trafalgar Studios 2, ***



Jean Paul Sartre’s, Huis Clos, is often translated as No Exit and is, as the title suggests, an exceptionally claustrophobic show.

This simmering, one-act play is set in hell, re-imagined as a crumbling drawing room, and sees three recently deceased souls turn slowly and savagely against each other.

It isn’t, as you might imagine, a barrel of laughs. Each of the three “inmates” – a journalist, a postal worker and a devilishly attractive wife – has blood on their hands.

Each is cruel, secretive and hard-hearted. They clash, painfully, , hitting on hard home truths they’ve spent a lifetime avoiding.

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Director Paul Hart – the last of the Donmar’s assistant directors to have his work showcased here – does a brilliant job of slowly releasing the characters’ true colours.

Gradually, accompanied by a deadening hum and a flickering darkness, the characters’ hidden sins are revealed. Will Keen is particularly powerful as embittered journalist Garcin, whose glassy eyes and coiled fists hint at his violent past.

Fiona Glascott’s Estelle, swooping around in a glacial blue dress, is initially a figure of fun and a seemingly harmless flirt.

But, without a mirror or a man around to reflect her beauty, she grows ugly and her flirtations turn dangerous. The actors do well to define their characters but still keep the mystery in tact.

It does grow a touch monotonous though and, as the confusion evaporates and the characters’ cruelty crystallises, one’s eyes stray towards the exit sign.

But this is still a chilling play which reminds us that, no matter how far we might run and how many little white lies we might tell, we can never escape ourselves.