No Way Out

MARK DANCIGER is impressed by a highly professional freshers play.

Cambridge Corpus Fresher Hell help help me i know thw way out no way out play please help me out

It’s a real challenge to review a freshers show. Do you judge it on the same criteria as any other show or should you be more forgiving, acknowledging the fact that many of the people involved are trying out theatre for the first time?

Fortunately this wasn’t an issue I had with reviewing No Way Out. It’s a solid production, skilfully performed and intelligently directed, and was of a quality that I would expect from a far more experienced cast and crew. Though by no means perfect, it’s an engaging watch, whatever criteria you judge it on.

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Sartre’s play is frequently performed, so most audience members will be familiar with the concept before they arrive at the Corpus Playroom. Three strangers have died, and have been taken to hell.

But this isn’t a hell of fire and brimstone- the real torture is that these three utterly different characters are to be trapped together for eternity. Everyone remembers that famous line, “Hell is other people”.

It’s a brilliant script, but one that is hard to pull off. The play is fairly long for a one act show, and most of the lines are delivered by just three characters. This means that the central performances have to be very strong to keep the audience engaged throughout the play.

For the most part the actors do an excellent job: Isla Cowan is fantastic as spoilt bitch Estelle, as is Tom Chamberlain as insecure womaniser Garcin. The chemistry between the two of them is intense and natural, constantly oscillating from violence to sexuality. Riss Obolenksy also puts in a solid performance as Ines, though she is less convincing that the other two, never quite nailing the fury at the heart of the character.

However, the performances weren’t always entirely consistent. Each actor had moments when the intensity of their performance dropped, and the pace slowed down as a result. These were most noticeable during the many monologues of the play, which have to be delivered with a real force to be exciting.

Though this was sometimes the case, such as Garcin’s unrepentant confession about the way he treated his wife, other monologues were more forced than forceful, such as Estelle’s description of her ex-lover dancing with another woman.

The one actor whose performance was consistently excellent was Sam Knight in his unsettling portrayal of the Waiter, responsible for welcoming the protagonists to their hell. It’s a small part, and he only really appears at the beginning of the show, yet I kept wishing that he would reappear.

For the most part the play was well directed, Nicholas Ashurst having done a good job of creating a constant feeling of tension and conflict between the three characters. In particular his use of pauses and silences helped to heighten the drama of the show. However there were several questionable decisions that detracted from an otherwise excellent play.

Throughout the second half, Estelle and Garcin were constantly making out with each other and removing items of clothing, a device that would have worked in moderation but was overused to the point of becoming gratuitous. Further, the aesthetic of the show was confused, the modern set clashing with certain period costumes.

From a technical perspective, the show was decent, with good use of sound effects and a spartan yet functional set, complete with hanging picture frames that served to nicely frame the stage.

However, the lighting design was odd, with many unmotivated slight changes in brightness, and a pair of unnecessary yellow lights constantly shining on the back walls.

Despite these flaws, the show was undoubtedly accomplished, and I was engaged from beginning to end. It’s not an easy watch- the main characters are cruel and unsympathetic, turning on each other at a moments notice, and there is no narrative as such, just a slow degeneration of the protagonists.

Nevertheless, if you enjoy intense drama I’d recommend watching No Way Out. We’ll undoubtedly be seeing these freshers on stage again very soon.

Four stars