(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 1/10.)
Watching Paul Hart's fine revival of Jean-Paul Sartre's infernal triangle, I was struck by the play's far-reaching influence. Written in 1943, it not only encapsulates Sartre's existentialist philosophy, but left its indelible mark on Beckett's Waiting for Godot and Harold Pinter's hothouse dramas.
Sartre ushers us into a Second Empire drawing room, given a nice air of dusty dilapidation in Lucy Osborne's design, which turns out to be a chamber of hell. Of the room's three occupants, Garcin is a pacifist coward, Ines is a man-hating predator and Estelle is a flighty murderess. Sartre's point is that they are defined by their past actions and that their particular torment is to be chained together for eternity. But he was also at pains to explain, in later years, exactly what he meant by the famous line, "L'enfer, c'est les autres": not that we should cut ourselves off from other people, but that hell lies in our excessive reliance on their judgment.