‘Hell is other people” — possibly Jean-Paul Sartre’s most quoted line — is from Huis Clos. A man and two women find themselves confined together in a drawing room for eternity. David K. O’Hara’s The Upstairs Room is a modern take on Sartre’s play. The rich interweaving of themes defies easy summary. The attic-room setting and the characters echo Huis Clos. But the form is like that of a dream or a piece of music.

Gordon, a failed writer, takes refuge in a hotel from some kind of environmental catastrophe raging outside. Society is disintegrating and violence rules. He’s joined by Stella who tells him stories about her youth. Later Iris arrives and becomes the catalyst for a series of revelations about Gordon and Stella’s past. There is an unexpected emotional punch at the end.

Unlike Sartre’s characters these people need each other; as Iris says, they exist only in relationship. Gordon stays to look after Stella rather than escape. But relationships are problematic. Gordon quotes from Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception: “The existence of other people is a difficulty and an outrage.”

The relationship of people with the natural environment is a second troubling motif. Characters recall moments of happiness in nature — the sun, trees, birds — but ‘outside’ the climate has gone haywire.

As a drama the play held my attention throughout and I was moved by the final scenes. Anthony Cozens is superb as Gordon, a role which keeps him on stage for most of the play. Amy Enticknap (pictured with Mr Cozens) gives good support as Stella, and Kate Tulloch is a beguiling Iris. The project has been expertly brought together by director James Savin, who also takes the role of hotel manager.

This is O’Hara’s first professionally produced play and it’s a remarkably confident piece of writing. It is also the first time Savin, who teaches film acting, has directed for the stage. Until tomorrow.