Last night I attended Soup Can Theatre’s double bill of Barber’s A Hand of Bridge followed by Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit; an English translation by Stuart Gilbert, of his 1944 play Huis Clos. The latter is a piece I’ve seen before and read in both English and French and I would never have imagined it could be presented as it was last night. It’s a play about three people who find themselves in a room in Hell together. They will be there for eternity, an eternal triangle I suppose, for they have been especially selected to get on each others’ nerves by continually reminding each character of that aspect of their former lives that they find least admirable. I have always seen it as an incredibly bleak play as befits one that premiered in Paris in the last months of the German occupation. I would never have imagined it as a comedy; albeit a dark one, but that’s what director Sarah Thorpe gave us.
I have to say it worked quite well and a section of the audience found it absolutely hilarious. The four actors did a pretty good job. Daniel Pagett was striking as the “coward” Garcin. Carolyn Hall managed to convince as the oversexed airhead socialite Esytelle. Tennille Read, as the Lesbian murderess Inez, was knowing and creepy. Perhap best of all was Ryan Anning as the polite and implacable demonic valet. His performance was controlled and a bit weird with just enough, almost Pythonesque, physical acting to make a point. Yet, none of them seemed to quite belong to Sartre’s world. Rather it was if we had fast forwarded a couple of decades to a play by Ionesco. It was absurd. It was funny. But, where was the sense that the real weakness of the characters is their need for validation? They cannot be “free” (in a very specific Sartrian sense) and its this weakness that condemns them. Hell is one’s own weaknesses, not les autres. That said, a director is free to have her own slant on a work and Thorpe’s worked well enough on its own terms, rather as Marshall Pynkoski’s lightweight Mozart does.
The Hand of Bridge was presented as a kind of prelude. It’s a slight piece but was well sung by Taylor Strande as the mother fixated Geraldine, Alvaro Vazquez Robles as the adulterous Bill, Silpa Sharma as the hat obsessed Sally and, perhaps best of all, Keith O’Brien as David, with his strange fantasies of palaces full of naked boys and girls. A fourteen piece band directed by Pratik Gandhi was a real luxury for 10 minutes or so of music. There were some amusing touches, such as the game being played on laptops (though as always seems to be the case with this work, I doubt anybody involved had ever actually played bridge). The only real problem was that the work was resented “in the round”. With a relatively large band for the small space it was very much a lottery whether one could hear the singer or not. It’s hard to make words out when a soprano is singing with her back to you.
All in all, it was enterprising programme that succeeded on its own terms. It’s playing at the Ernest Baumer Studio at the Distillery and there are two more performances at 2pm and 7.30pm today.