Saturday, September 24, 2011

Crossbow Productions - No Exit

I'd been looking forward to catching Caroline Heim's production of No Exit since April this year. Having studied No Exit, I first heard from Dr. Heim that it would be coming up from Sydney for a one-night season I was pretty excited. It was a long way off but the wait was totally worth it. This new translation by Crossbow Productions of the original French text in conjunction with live music and modern staging was a fantastic experience.

No Exit takes place in hell, where three damned souls are confined to one room in punishment for eternity. The room is inhabited by a dead journalist named Joseph Garcin, a dead post-office clerk Inez Serrano, and dead socialite named Estelle Rigault. Throughout the piece they discover their crimes they are serving punishment for, reaching deep into concepts of existentialism and uncovering that hell isn't just location, it can be other things. Like people. There, I said it. HELL IS OTHERRR PEOPLEEEEEEEE.

But in all seriousness, this production was excellent - the worst thing about it was that it was in The Loft. The major characters were executed flawlessly, meticulously detailed in their portrayals - the chemistry between the principal cast was electric and couldn't have been better. Peter Cossar and Hannah Lynch-Blosse were fantastic in their roles, Cossar portraying a character balancing his self-resentment and his cowardice while vainly attempting to retain the image of his masculinity. Lynch-Blosse's role of Estelle was wonderfully grotesque, possessive and constantly blaming others in her selfish attempt to maintain her own image. Caroline Heim's performance of Inez was simply a tour-de-force, and was by far the best aspect. She was conniving, relentless, chiding and callous all at once. Throwing her head back and screaming with laughter was an action that unbelievably chilling and never got tired. Richard Fryberg played the Valet, and although the Valet has little stage time it felt like he was rushing the characters into the room and was impatient with them - I've always viewed the Valet as a crafty guy who enjoys his work. Regardless, the cast was simply perfect for their roles and time literally flew when watching them.

One of the new elements of the new adaptation that was really exciting was the use of music. Christian Heim composed, and performs with his son Ben Heim, tedious rhythmic based motifs that emerge when the respective characters reminisce on their pasts. The music adds another dimension to the performance, and its impressive how the rhythmic design of each song is so distinct to each character. There seemed to be a bit of off timing between the two musicians at the start, but I can't tell if that was to represent the obscure and absurd nature of the piece. I thoroughly enjoyed the music, the only time I thought it wasn't effective was at the end, when it over-powered Heim's flippant response to Lynch-Blosse's trying to stab her. The line's a cracker, and I did manage to hear it, and I knew it from when I studied the piece so I still found it amusing, but it was drowned among the music. I expect it was just the generally bad acoustics of The Loft. Overall the custom score was a genuinely innovative twist on the staging of the play, it was a pleasure to have the stage action complimented by such an effective soundscape.

The new translation was a little crass in some places, but overall its very provoking, a particular scene which I didn't realise when I studied the play was a realisation "One always dies too soon--or too late", where Inez realises that life must be lived happy, but we always insist to find ways that make life miserable. The language isn't dumbed down, but its somehow much less esoteric and easier to engage with to craft new meanings (coincidentally I used Dr. Heim's thesis on audience engagement in my last assignment). I'm still not sure of the meaning of some new aspects. Why was the painting there instead of the disgusting traditional statue, why was the Valet taking photos? I wish more people had come to see it so I could discuss. Overall the text retained its nasty but witty nature, and it thoroughly enjoyable.

All in all, I can't believe this show only ran for one day in Brisbane - it was much better than some of Brisbane's major offerings this year. The new translation of No Exit, accompanied by the atmospheric music working with the excellent acting made time fly and I really enjoyed myself - I'm so glad I managed to see it live. Thank you to Crossbow Productions for generously allowing us a preview show, and it will be a delight to catch their next production - whatever it may be.

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