Thursday, 11 January 2018
Belleville at The Donmar
James Norton is becoming the go-to actor for portraying outwardly normal, caring guys who have hidden depths. As Zack in Amy Herzog’s play, Belleville, currently playing at The Donmar, he once again brings this skill to the fore.
Zack, a doctor, is newly married to Abby (Imogen Poots). They have decamped from America to Paris, where he has a job doing research to prevent children contracting Aids and she, once a promising actor, is now teaching yoga. So far so good, but scratch the surface and hidden imperfections appear. The possible frailty of their relationship is hinted at almost from the start when Abby, returning from a cancelled yoga class (no-one turned up) discovers Zack furtively holed up in the bedroom with his computer. It’s not just that he should be at work, but that his laptop is tuned into a porn channel. And it seems that it’s not just their marriage which might crack at the seams, for underneath her bubbly exterior, Abby is mentally fragile. Having recently lost her mother, she is now obsessed with ringing home, day and night, to discuss her sister’s pregnancy with her father; a source of irritation for Zack, who finally hides her mobile phone. This aura of uneasiness ratchets up as the play progresses and the couple discover things about one another with which they find it difficult to cope.
The flat they rent belongs to Alioune (Malachi Kirby) and his wife, Amina (Faith Alabi), a Senegalese-French couple who live downstairs. He and Zack often share a spliff together when their respective wives aren’t around. Although the two men seem to have a friendly relationship, the same cannot really be said for Abby and Amina, the latter not bothering to hide her disapproval of the two Americans. Another disquieting aspect of the couple’s ex pat life in Paris.
It is as much to do with the skill of the cast as with Herzog’s script that the cracks which are continually revealed are realistic and subtle. A flaw in Zack is highlighted when he strongly disapproves of Abby wearing a sexy see-through blouse to go on a night out with their landlords. The reason? She last wore it when they went out with her ex-boyfriend. Ha, ha, could this seemingly placid and caring husband, actually have a jealous and manipulative streak? And does Abby actually enjoy goading him? Is their relationship toxic or are they desperately in love with one another? The way Director, Michael Longhurst steers the production ensures that the accumulation of Zack and Abby’s passive aggregations towards one another, although shocking, is believable and somewhat surprising.
Although the play belongs in the main to the magnificent James Norton and the equally accomplished Miss Poots, there is also excellent support from Malachi Kirby and Faith Alabi. The straight through hour and forty minutes fly by and I dare anyone to slacken their concentration at all during this time. Some may quibble that it is too melodramatic but not me!