Best Stuff Day 8: No Exit
With their production of No Exit at this year’s High Performance Rodeo, Vancouver’s Electric Company took one of the most beautifully minimalist stage set-ups in theatre — one small room that accounts for an eternity of torment — and flipped it inside-out with an ambitious staging that blurred the line between performance and screening. The stage set-up kept viewers outside of the room while the cast was filmed by hidden cameras, with their performances screened on a large wall. As far as stylistic tricks go, it’s an interesting one, preserving the “this could go wrong at any moment” tension of live theatre while giving far more directorial control of exactly what the audience sees at any given moment.
It also allowed for more of a focus on the bellhop who brings the condemned souls to their room. While his questionable moral status doesn’t add much to the moral drama, his incorporation of the audience into the scene makes things interesting. In Electric Company’s version of the play, the punishment continues so long as an audience is present to watch it, highlighting the performative nature of the penance. But with the audience changing between every staging and the three doomed souls repeating their scene with no memory of previous performances, the bellhop is the only character with an actual memory of the amount of time elapsed; the play makes it clear that this memory makes his torment more significant than any of the other characters. Adding voyeurism and the spectacle of punishment to a play that already provides an exceedingly cynical take on human nature is a bit salt-in-the-wound, but it also adds another layer of meaning to an already intelligent work, making for an unforgettable theatrical experience.