Jean-Paul Sartre’s 1948 play Crime Passionnel is a true tour-de-force in Sartre’s, or indeed many other writers’, oeuvre. The prologue and epilogue take place in the present day, with the actual scenes being recalled by the protagonist Hugo from two years earlier. The plot follows Hugo’s attempts to carry out a political assassination that he has been ordered to execute and the consequences that arise from his endeavours. The play is stimulating to read, moving at a relatively fast pace and offering a tense and suspense-filled reading experience.
The opening prologue immediately grips the reader’s attention and plunges straight into the action. I was immediately drawn to Olga as a character: she is strong and independent and she commands the prologue. Straight away, the format of the switch between the present day and the past gives an interesting dynamic to events, and it is extremely effective.
The play is certainly odd to read in many places, but always in a positive way. The confusion of the second scene between Jessica and Hugo and the insight into their characters and feelings is intriguing to read; they are both fascinating characters and their relationship is no different. Although I thought it would be difficult for Sartre’s usual philosophical writing to come through in a play, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Just reading Jessica and Hugo’s dialogue and their interactions was as stimulating as all of Sartre’s novels, essays or short stories.
In fact, the play format actually works incredibly well for the ideas and plot lines set forward in this text. There is a lot of room for exciting directional or acting choices, differing intonations of voice and set arrangements. I also particularly appreciated the few subtle references to Shakespeare and his theatrical works, whether they were intentional or not.
The thing that I liked most about the play, though, was how bold and audacious it is. Not just the characters themselves (although most of them are truly brilliant!) but the topics that Sartre covers too. His discussions on politics often take very compelling turns, especially when they involve class and social inequalities. But as well as all of the action and the animation of the plot, it is also cleverly and subtly sombre. For example, Jessica’s breakdown towards the end which can be taken as a mere continuation of her former silliness but is actually rather heart breaking at the same time.
The narrative takes many twists and turns as it unfolds, despite how short it is, but it is the epilogue which is my favourite. All of the action builds up continually as the play progresses and it does not stop until the play finishes with one final explosive shock.
All in all, I can honestly say that this is one of the best plays that I have ever experienced, either on paper or on stage, and I have experienced many plays in my time. I cannot praise this play enough or emphasise adequately how much I recommend reading it. I know that it is a work that I shall return to again and again.