"Hurray for Foreign Language Theatre"
by remotegoat reviewer for remotegoat on 10/10/10

First performed in 1944, 'Huis Clos' is not interesting so much for its dramatic content as for its philosophical ideas. At the heart of the play lies the importance we attach to other people's perception of us. Most of us are in torment unless we can control other people's opinion of us. In our present society, where so much - from virtual networking to celebrity fixation - is dictated by an obsessive fear that we can only exist if other people see us, 'Huis Clos' is eerily relevant.

Three basically selfish and deeply unpleasant individuals arrive in hell, and are condemned to sharing a sparsely but elegantly furnished room. This is a hell without burning furnaces or torture instruments - at least not of the physical kind. Bullied by the other two, each sinner is forced to confess the crimes which he or she has to expiate for eternity. Garcin is a coward who cheated on his long-suffering wife. Ines is lesbian who emotionally abused her lover. Estelle is an oversexed adulteress who has murdered her baby. All three are brazenly unrepentant. All three are consumed by an obsessive need to be validated by the other two, and to torture them in the process.

The claustrophobic atmosphere of the play is made even more stifling by the constricted space at the Baron's Court Theatre, an ideal space for such a piece. You find yourself wishing for greater distance between yourself and the actors but it is that very closeness which swallows you up into the intensity of the show.

David Furlong is refreshingly natural as Garcin. There is minimal artifice there, as he drifts seamlessly between outwardly friendly man's man and seedy, vain creep.

Patricia Morejon - perhaps a little too feminine for the role - imbues the role of Ines with beautiful intensity and fierce intelligence. Every line she speaks is illustrated with a million more thoughts darting out of her eyes.

Claire Meade is possibly closer to a wilful, pouting child than to a sexual manipulator. Her style of acting is markedly different and less earthy than that of her fellow performers, but that could be because she is the only non-French trained actress in the cast. Although her diction is at times a little unclear, her Estelle is delivered with total commitment and courage. Ms Meade is not afraid to make her character as odious as possible, and her dedication is palpable.

Cedric Maruani provides a satisfyingly sinister tone as the mysterious usher whose job is to escort the sinners to their place of torment.

Gigi Robarts directs with minimal intrusion, allows Sartre's ideas to make their impact, and weaves in the odd moment of welcome comic relief.

This is not a show aimed at making you feel good. It is a show to make you think. It is a pleasure to see 'Huis Clos' in the original French. London is a multilingual city. It is high time we had more proof of that on the stage. Let us hope for more such treats.

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