Posted by Laurence Green

Amy Herzog's Belleville staring James Norton and Imogen Poots promises much but delivers little writes Laurence Green.


Mention the name Belleville and you would immediately conjure up a picture of Edith Piaf, for this formerly run-down Paris suburb was the birthplace of the legendary singer. But Amy Herzog's new play entitled Belleville (Donmar Warehouse), receiving its UK premiere, has nothing to do with Piaf. It is in fact an unsettling 100-minute drama about a marriage in crisis.

The action centres around a self-obsessed, recently wed young American couple living a dream in Paris. It's December and at first Abby and Zack seem relaxed about spending an intimate Christmas together. She's an actress and yoga teacher, and he's a doctor working on what might be a cure for Aids. However, when she stumbles on him looking at porn on his laptop, is soon becomes clear that their idyllic existence is in jeopardy.

Abby has a history of anxiety and depression, worsened by the death of her mother and she is now fixated with speaking on her phone to her father and monitoring the progress of her sister's pregnancy. Meanwhile it emerges Zack has been hazy about both his work and his finances, is addicted to smoking dope, and conceals the fact that they both face eviction. We learn piecemeal that Zack and Abby's marriage is a web of secrets and lies, and watch as their relationship sours and descends into tragedy.

This is a whiny, pretentious play that lacks a sense of involvement in the characters or their predicament. Furthermore, their back-stories stretch credibility and at a few key moments, there is too little tension. Indeed rather than explore the complexities of the central relationship the play descends into the realm of twisted melodrama.

Director Michael Longhurst manages to achieve an atmosphere of barely suppressed violence, helped by two good central performances that at least make the characters seem real, if not particularly interesting.

Imogen Poots convincingly probes Abby's unhappy self-obsession and James Norton skilfully suggests two very different sides of Zach - a vanity that can be menacingly coy and a fumbling fidgety desperation.

The "you-never-really-know-the-ones-you-love" trope has fuelled countless drama and this has nothing really new to say on the subject. It is in fact a play, which promises much but delivers little.


Runs until Saturday 3 February at Donmar Warehouse.

Box office: 020 3282 3808  

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