Fringe preview: No Exit

M+E Theatre take on Jean-Paul Sartre’s nightmarish No Exit at this year’s Fringe. The celebrated French thinker and writer’s one-act existential play concerns three dead characters, locked in a room together, for eternity, and questions who put them there in the first place – their own guilt, or a wicked god? Soon they will come to the realisation, “Hell is other people”.

AAA caught up with Melissa Jean Woodside, winner of the Royal Reel Award 2015, who stars in No Exit as Inez Serrano, a self-confessed sadist.

  • How has your Fringe been so far?
 It’s been lots of fun, thanks! It’s the one time of the year where you can let your inner thespian out. I often overdo it, with bands, gigs, comedy nights, theatres, Edinburgh Film Festival, rolling in haystacks (yes, that happened), but I soak it all up and it keeps me going long after it’s ended. I stay up late then wake up early, but I don’t regret a thing.
To make a very English comment: The weather has been nice so I can’t complain.
  • Tell me a bit about the show you’re in?
I’m in an adaptation of No Exit by Michelle Van Rensburg. Michelle is a brilliant creative brain, and the way she works is very unique. She is very visual, a very physical actress and director, and you often see that in her work. Her approach to the script is almost holistic, bringing Sartre’s vision to life by taking many factors into account, as opposed to just the traditional or logistical 2D interpretation.
Our version is incredibly uncomfortable especially during one particular “trial” scene we’ve created. It’s hard to do the monologues with the harassment we’ve interjected into the piece! I broke a chair in the tech rehearsal yesterday (I love saying that!). Hopefully that painful feeling will transmit to the viewers.
  • How did you become involved in it?No Exit, Edinburgh Fringe Theatre
Michelle approached me to do another children’s Shakespeare piece.  I asked instead if we could do something more serious and meaningful being a political science and legal grad. We hunted down different plays, built our team, and the rest is history…
  • When Sartre was selected for – but then turned down – the Nobel Prize for Literature it was for having “exerted a far-reaching influence on our age”. Is this still the case?
Yes. Sartre’s work as a whole is far reaching. It influences us in ways even if we don’t realise it. He was a prolific writer, and the quantity and quality of his deliberations are powerful. I think it should be taught at secondary schools. The main thing I personally take away from his work, due to the close proximity with the character Inez, is to live a little more cruelly. It may feel cruel. It may feel cruel in society’s eyes, for example, not accepting a prestigious award, but if you believe in something enough and have your reasons for it, you must fight for it. If you fail for reasons beyond your control, that’s beyond your control, but at least you can live knowing you weren’t a coward.
The Questors Theatre in London did a rehearsed reading on Sartre’s life last week and a quick google search reveals that many theatre groups worldwide are performing his work. This to me is pretty concrete evidence that his work is still “far-reaching”.
  • Why do you think No Exit still has an impact on audiences today?
The play is so rich, and there is so much one can take away from it. It really has it all, it has the funny parts, the theatrical parts, and the intellectual parts. It attacks you in the heart and the brain, and  maybe, just maybe, makes you look within yourself.
I always think that good performers, and good theatre can leave you feeling terrified at parts. It can ripple through you. His play has the potential to be acted to such a decimal based on how it is structured writing wise. Often times we are acting a scene, and it hurts, I can feel the character’s eternal pain. Its beautiful. The characters are all relatable, and they struggle sometimes without even knowing it. Even the more glam character (Estelle). They all mess up and you feel sorry for them as they lose their human dignity. This is relatable to audiences.


“I actively hunt

for serious drama

that will move

me and make

me feel “


  • There’s thousands of shows on – why should Fringe-goers fork out to see yours?
Serious drama is unique. The Fringe is exploding with free Fringe and comedy, but great thought-provoking drama and the ability to do it well (Fringe is expensive!) isn’t something you see all over the Fringe. I know this first hand, because I actively hunt for serious drama that will move me and make me feel.
What’s more…
The play is written by one of the most renowned philosophers in recent history. It will ask a lot of conflicting questions on the subject of the morality, and who you are as a person, and how you feel about wealth and greed. There are deeper layers to the play, but on the surface there are many easily accessible questions that are still poignant and relevant today. It may even educate you, and studies show people like to feel educated. Right? 🙂  Armchair philosophy, the kind you can watch without feeling lectured is very satisfying in my book.
On a practical note, there is opportunity for audience interaction. This is voluntary, but an added bonus if you’ve got the desire to feel a thrill (i.e. if you’re the kind of person that sits in the front row at comedy gigs).
  • Are there any other shows on this year you’d recommend?
Ada at the Bedlam Theatre.
Ada Lovelace was a mathematician, a celebrity, a poetical scientist, the daughter of Lord Byron and the world’s first computer programmer. The show interweaves physical drama, computer algorithms, projector screens, music, and good monologues. It moved me, and left me wanting to join the ranks of women in the sciences. If you see me submit an essay to Oxford University on Quantum Physics, it’s their doing!
  • What’s on your hit list to see?
Austentacious. I’ve had Magnus my colleague raving about it day in day out. Along with Magnus, the Times (*****) and the Guardian (****) seem to think it’s pretty funny too! Anything that involves improvising Jane Austen is, to say it lightly, very impressive.
  • What do you like to do in Edinburgh on your day off?
Hike King Arthur’s Seat. It’s so good to get the air in your lungs.  It’s dual purpose for me, it helps my voice for acting and is also very satisfying making it to the top. Also, as a Canadian living in London, I miss mountains. I make the most of hiking whilst I’m here. Or running, depending on how fit I feel…
  • Can you recommend a bar or restaurant in Edinburgh?
I love Hemma (Holyrood Road), a spacious Swedish bar, with vibrant colours and nice selection of foreign and local beers.
  • What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen this year? 
 Nothing surprises me this year. But the strangest thing I’ve seen was my friend Nick Hall making sweet passionate love to a bicycle during his comedy sketch at the Underbelly. I simply did not see that coming. I burst into uncontrollable laughter thinking of a court case involving a man raping a bike that I read about in my alternate life in the legal world..


No Exit, theSpace @ Venue 45, Jeffrey Street, 9.05pm, until Saturday, 29  August (not Aug 23), £12 (£10), 0845 508 8378

Questions: Gary Flockhart