Each time I see a reference to Jean-Paul Sartre’s play No Exit (Huis Clos), I think of the nightclub scene in Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho, which is fitting since that novel is, in a sense, about a group of people who hate each other. No Exit conjures Sartre’s famous phrase “Hell is other people,” but in the play, hell is, more accurately, oneself—or the inability to leave oneself, to “take a little break,” by sleeping, turning off the lights, or even blinking. Hell, in Sartre’s play, means being endlessly confronted with the sordid trivialities of one’s self through the eyes of other people. Trapped in a room with them, to be exact, forever. It’s a chilling concept.
In this BBC adaptation of Sartre’s play, called In Camera, certain details have changed. Instead of the “Second Empire furniture” from Sartre’s descriptions of the hellish room, we have a brightly-lit modernist gallery space. The bronze objet d’art in Sartre’s play has been replaced by massive abstract painting and sculpture, a commentary, perhaps, on the way the bourgeois space of art galleries imposes artificial decorum on everyone inside. It’s as incongruous with the situation as the haughty drawing room of the original. Aside from the mise en scene, In Camera is largely faithful to the dialogue and characterization of Sartre’s play. Featuring absurdist playwright Harold Pinter as the insufferable writer and journalist Garcin, Jane Arden as Inez, Katherine Woodville as Estelle, and Jonathan Hansen as the valet, In Camera was part of the BBC series “The Wednesday Play,” which ran from 1964 to 1970 and presented original work and the occasional adaptation. Only the second episode in the series, In Camera ran on November 4th, 1964 and was adapted and directed from Sartre’s original by Philip Saville.
Josh Jones is a doctoral candidate in English at Fordham University and a co-founder and former managing editor of Guernica / A Magazine of Arts and Politics.