"Two's company, three's a crowd"
by Rebecca Wall for remotegoat on 23/09/12

In a claustrophobically small room with a bare, glaring light bulb three empty chairs confront each other like cowboys before a gunfight. One red, one green, and one blue, their clashing colours presage the conflict that will arise between their occupants, ushered in by a bell-boy whose impeccable manners betray a mocking tone. This, however, is no ordinary hotel, and the inhabitants of this room will be here for all eternity, damned, we soon realise, to Hell. Garcin vows to manfully meet his punishment; the beautiful Estelle declares that there must be some mistake in her case, while Inès is the first to realise that each holds the power to torture the other, a psychological punishment that will leave them begging for burning pokers and thumbscrews. As the play unfolds we discover the sins which have led them to this fate, their weaknesses and desires, the whole serving to wittily illustrate Sartre's existentialist theories in a brilliant secular imagining of Hell.

The venue was a near-perfect one in which to stage the work, intimate to the point of discomfort (particularly as Estelle and Garcin embrace before a distraught Inès) and stuffily hot, creating an illusion that the audience was really sharing the trio's experience, an effect marred only by the occasional loud conversation outside the door. The pared-down production allowed one to really focus on the script itself, fortunate, given that at least half of the audience must have been concentrating on following the French! Indeed, it was a rare treat outside of university productions to watch the play in its original language. Both myself and my guest had however taken the precaution of reading the play before seeing the performance, meaning that I had developed a strong idea of the characters which jarred slightly in the case of Estelle: although I had imagined her as a vain and coquettish character whose primness gradually unravels to reveal the horror of her crime, costume decisions here meant that she immediately seemed more like a girl on the pull on a Friday night, with unfortunate flashes of cerise underwear from her first entrance. Nevertheless one was still left with a pathetic impression of a woman insecure to the point of losing her identity if it is not constantly affirmed by her appearance in a mirror, or through a man's desire, in a play which warns us of the dangers of relying upon others to define ourselves: Hell, after all, is other people.

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