9.30pm Corpus Playroom, Tues 16th-Sat 20th February 2010
Having crept self-consciously into the Corpus Playrooms, unnerved by the sinister greetings of the in-character Valet (Tom Pye), you are put at ease by the jazzy music with lyrics appropriate to Sartre’s famous line, “Hell is other people”. The set is (unavoidably) simple and made effective by the clever choice of spotlighting, falling on the handle-less door. As soon as the music stops, the closeness of the Corpus Playrooms comes into its own and creates the sense of being trapped In Camera.
It is difficult to be even-handed when reviewing a production of a play so enthralling as Sartre’s In Camera, and the review should be prefaced with a statement that, as a whole, this is fantastic and unmissable. It is a fascinating script, full of violent tensions and philosophical intensity, as three people begin an eternity of torture being stuck in a room together. The intensity begins as soon as Garcin (Alex Wetten) is shown into the room, anticipating the torture racks of hell but discovering instead three shabby seats. Sartre’s repetition of the imagery of eyes and sight is brought out well, so that its significance in terms of the play on insight is subtle but certain.
The lighting changes for the characters’ fading visions of earth are smoothly done. The monologues are surprisingly convincing for a student production, and provide some of the highlights of the pleasantly short performance. Laurie Stevens, as Estelle, unfortunately only really engages the audiences during her monologue, momentarily capturing the essence of the character as a vain, childish “silly little bitch”, before resuming a somewhat two-dimensional portrayal. Megan Roberts, on the other hand, provides a ceaselessly captivating performance, delivering philosophical messages with confidence and fluency as the complex Inez. She gives a flawless rendition of manipulative intelligence and self-aware cruelty.
The main frustration with the production is typified by Stevens cutting the line “Hell is other people” slightly short. Wetten too, lacking self-confidence at times, struggles with moments of intensity or (anti-)climax, except when his character loudly attacks Inez towards the end, where he finally gets the adrenaline going enough for the audience to experience the burning that should run through the play. Whilst this frustration conveys that this vision of hell “fumbles, and never hurts one quite enough”, it is quite hellish to do Sartre’s work to a standard so nearly, but not quite, brilliant.