The installation stinks of valiant but inevitable defeat.

The installation stinks of valiant but inevitable defeat. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

Reviewer rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Devised by Claudia Escobar, Madeleine Flynn, Tim Humphrey and Jason Maling, A is for Atlas
Season ended

THE story behind this performance installation, inspired by Sartre's No Exit, is an unfortunate one.

The independent company A is for Atlas was refused permission by Sartre's estate to stage the play on the grounds of venue: an underground public toilet opposite Queen Victoria Market.

The estate's objection is stupid beyond belief. No Exit, with its famous line ''Hell is other people'', evokes the claustrophobia of eternal damnation by placing three characters in inescapable proximity and making them cop each other's personal grime forever.

Toilet cubicles might have been a perfect setting for that.

It's a shame, because the installation that has been devised in lieu stinks of valiant but inevitable defeat.

Perhaps that's intentional, but as a kind of atomised, abstract response to the play the company cannot stage, the experience is, ultimately, disappointing.

Descending into a toilet hell strewn with elaborate soap sculptures, we find a janitor-like figure inviting us to add to them. The characters are not directly embodied, but hang over the cubicles like some sort of mist.

One closed cubicle door has a piano half-jutting through it. Someone - presumably the adulteress and baby-killer Estelle - is in there, trying to play Stairway to Heaven on the part of the keyboard you can't see.

We can tinkle the ivories on our side with diabolical abandon, and the muted acoustics of the space (as well as the dissonance of the musical improvisation) lends an infernal quality to the sound. Next to that, scratching emerges from an enclosed cubicle - an instantiation, perhaps, of the cowardly male figure in the play. And finally there is a woman (Claudia Escobar) who invites you into her cubicle, which she's decorating with human figures made from soggy toilet paper.

Madeleine Flynn and Tim Humphrey continue their odyssey through sound and space with an astringency suited to the missing text. Yet it doesn't amount to much if you have not seen or read No Exit, and even if you have, critique is no substitute for the thing itself.

It's not the artists' fault - Sartre's inheritors have robbed us of a potentially riveting night of theatre.