Presented as part of the Palaver Festival which celebrates and promotes language, music and performance in French, German and Chinese in Manchester, and produced by students of The University of Manchester French Studies Department, this was a production of Jean-Paul Satre's most well-known work, Huis Clos, { No Exit } performed in French.

For those who don't know the story, then very simply it tells of three sinners sent to Hell, and, instead of enduring an eternity of torture as they expected, they are locked together in a fin-de-siecle period furnished room, but unable to leave. They are damned to spending the rest of eternity together and perhaps that prospect is worse than the torture they expected. During the course of the play, we learn more about them, their crimes, and their unhappinesses; and we are left to ponder their future together as the final words of 'we are here together, forever' ring clear to all three as the curtain closes to their hysterical laughter, and Joseph Garcin's final cry of, 'Hell yeah! Bring it on!"

The last time, and only other time, I saw Huis Clos performed was in Perpignan many years ago, so it was lovely to be able to reacquaint myself with this masterly work. The acting from all four of the cast was indeed really very good with some lovely characterisations. An interesting idea to have the valet (Garcon) played by a female. It worked just as well, and the wry, all-knowing smile that was all-pervasive a nice touch to the characterisation. It is a small part and has most of the lines at the beginning of the play setting the scene, and bringing on the three main characters, but interchanging only with her first to any great extent. Dressed in what could have been a doctor's white coat, and with hair slicked back with grease, the Garcon took on a rather slimy and Garden-of-Eden-snake-like quality. She was Ines Tourlet.

The protagonist, Joseph Garcin, was played with a real savour by Nick Wynter who commanded the stage with his Latin-lover style interpretation. His moments of self-realisation were well measured and his character was secure and transfixing, and his French fluent and fluid. He was more than ably assisted in his hellish revelations by Kerri Logan as Ines, looking like a movie star from the 1950s dressed from head to foot in black and white with a headscarf and oddly, but quite effectively, black lipstick; and even more bizarrely Farah Aden, as Estelle, dressed in a 1920's silver flapper dress and blonde wig. Both girls had clearly defined characters and gave enjoyable performances. Ines more laid back and worldly-wise, whilst Estelle was young, inexperienced and more jittery, but both, quite rightly, getting on Garcin's nerves for their different reasons - until of course Estelle decides that she needs his affection and starts to ask him for kisses and more, which infuriates Ines, and renders Garcin incapable.

The lighting was generally good, but the full wash was strange. There was a small section in the centre which was distinctly much more orange than the rest of the stage, and when a character moved here their face took on a fake-suntan quality which was quite distracting. I tried to pinpoint the offending lamp but was unable to do so. I liked the idea of the floor level red lamp on the opening of the door, but surely it should have come on for every opening and not just Garcin's? The sound was very poor. Thankfully I was seated at the front but none of the cast projected their voices and none were wearing mics. This was in the main large theatre and so some amplification was definitely needed.

I found the directing very confusing. Fortunately I knew the story so the lack of subtitles didn't bother me; but what I found most odd and distracting was the constant moving of the cast to the apron front. I simply wasn't sure at all whether the director, Ines Tourlet, meant us to be 'there' or not. Were they breaking the forth wall, acknowledging our existence or were they simply confessing and opening their souls to something seen only in their mind's eye? I suspect and hope the latter, as this would be in keeping with the playwright's wishes, however, it was simply not clear, especially when Wynter had an unerring habit of directly eyeballing audience members. There was no need for any of them to come so close to the edge of the stage in any case - it broke the fourth wall boundary and was really rather strange.

Further, the play started really well with a good pace and interesting dynamics, but the energy dimmed substantially in the middle, and the three became trapped in a monotone of delivery and pacing. This only really picked up again shortly before the end when there is some real physicality between them and some shouting to be done.

It is hugely commendable that Manchester can advertise a French language production of Satre, and marvellous that it can be performed at such a prestigious venue. It is such a pity that the audience was made up mainly of fellow students and few others, and even then managed only to fill the first few rows. Maybe the 3:00pm performance time put people off. I sincerely hope that more original language theatre can be produced in the future. We are now living, more than ever before in a multi-cultural society, and Manchester houses the greatest diversity of nations outside of London. We should embrace this opportunity to be proud of cultural differences - including language and literature.

As part of The Palaver Festival, The Contact Theatre are also hosting productions of Schiller's Kabale Und Liebe, and a Chinese language play called Bus Stop. More details here -

Reviewer: Mark Dee

Reviewed: 17th March 2016