Review by Yasmin Elahi
The Fringe Brisbane Hub transformed into Hell’s waiting room for Stage Fright Productions’ ‘No Exit’. The intimate venue perfectly captured the claustrophobic and sterile setting of the play and provided a more realistic audience experience than a larger theatre would have elicited.
‘No Exit’ is a one-act play by Jean-Paul Sartre. Famous for his existentialism, this play explores the notion of hell in a novel and though-provoking way. Written during WWII, this 90-minute play had no intermission to enable audiences to reach home before curfew. Director, Brittany Taylor Hetherington remained faithful to the original concept and chose not to include an intermission in her production. This mirrored the characters’ experiences of being trapped and having no exit, as the title suggests.
Set design by Brittany Taylor Hetherington was simple yet effective. The requisite three divans were front and centre, complemented by a window going nowhere and a wonderfully realistic fireplace and mantlepiece. The stage was rather small and Hetherington’s design cleverly balanced set pieces with playing space.
Lighting design by Dom Guilfoyle was impactful. The flickering lights when each ‘absentee’ entered hell, the subtle blue washes when each character watched their lives back on earth and soft warm hues of varying intensity created a mood that was equal parts comforting and unsettling. The show was perfectly underscored by Guilfoyle’s lighting design, which greatly enhanced the action on stage.
Sound design by Kyle Hetherington was subtle and sporadic. The few sound effects that were used were unobtrusive and eerie, gently reminding the audience that the seemingly comfortable living room the characters were in was in fact more sinister than it appears. Perhaps the soundscape could have been utilised more to further enhance the somewhat disturbing setting of the play.
Brittany Taylor Hetherington both produced and directed this production. Her use of the small stage was good and the characters each had clear and evident personalities. The blocking was energetic, with plenty of movement to keep the audiences’ attention. There were few moments of stillness, which perhaps could have been explored further. In a play where three people are stuck in a room, it is difficult to find purposeful blocking for the characters. At times, it seemed the repeated standing up and sitting down had little purpose and though leaning into the stir-crazy notion, became distracting and drew focus from the poetry of Sartre’s words.
Matty Butler was intense in the role of Vincent. He often snapped at the others and turned to shouting very quickly. In the softer moments of his performances, the audience were able to glimpse the many layers of his character but these moments were rare. His physical acting with Estelle was believable and committed. Butler maintained his troubled disposition and concern at being trapped in hell throughout the entire play and in this regard was the most convincing.
Grace Swadling was a standout in the role of Estelle. Swadling was totally committed to her character and performed with gusto. Her accent was the most consistent and the intention of her words was cutting. Her performance towed the line of melodramatic at times, but Swadling managed to retain the authenticity of her character. A dynamic performer and memorable performance as Estelle.
Ada Lukin played Inez with confidence. Though her accent was at odds with the others, she embraced her role. A different interpretation to the classic Inez, Lukin’s portrayal was in command and appeared less bothered by the notion of being trapped in hell than perhaps she should. Nevertheless, she served as a level-headed foil to Swadling’s emotional Estelle and posed some of the play’s biggest questions in a pointed and matter-of-fact fashion.
Oscar Thelander’s role as the Valet was small but powerful. He set the eerie and disturbing feel of the show from the outset. His portrayal of the Valet’s insincere optimism and inability to blink was captivating and instantly engaged the audience. Thelander’s performance perfectly struck the balance of likeable with sinister undertones and made what could be a forgettable role into one of the most memorable characters.
Overall, Stage Fright Productions’ ‘No Exit’ was dynamic and proves that a play written halfway around the world almost 100 years ago can still be not only a relevant and thought-provoking piece of theatre, but also a great night out.