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A CurtainUp London Review
"So what do Muslims do for Christmas?" — Abby
Imogen Potts as Abby and James Norton as Zack (Photo: Marc Brenner)
It doesn't start well. Newly wed Abby (Imogen Poots) returns home unexpectedly in the middle of the day to her Parisian rented apartment to hear coming from the bedroom the unmistakable sounds of a woman experiencing orgasm.

This is the flat she and her husband Zack (James Norton) are renting while he works for Medecins Sans Frontieres. She is home early because her yoga class has been cancelled. Abby is affronted by her discovery but thankfully the sound is taped pornography and her husband is alone and embarrassed, although I was expecting the other woman to appear.

Abby and Zack are American nationals and she is waiting for a phone call from her father announcing the birth of her sister's baby in New Jersey. Abby would like to be at home in the USA but Zack explains that there would be a problem with their French visas if they left France at this time.

Zack complains that Abby has been much more difficult since she started to come off her medication and indeed we see her suddenly erupt into explosive, volatile behaviour. It is most disconcerting and set bi-polar bells ringing.

Their landlord is Afro-French Alioune (Malachi Kirby) who lives downstairs with his wife and child, but when Alioune comes to call it is to speak to Zack privately about ask Zack about the back rent that he owes. Zack meanwhile is searching to locate where he left the marijuana which he shares with Alioune.

The title Belleville means beautiful town but the Parisian arrondissement is home to people from many different cultures— people from the old French colonies of Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and Chad as well as being home to one of Paris's Chinatowns. Tom Scutt's elongated box set shows a scruffy, unprepossessing, conversion apartment living room come hall, with the kitchen, bathroom and bedroom just out of view. Through the dirty windows we can see snow on the box shrubs on the balcony.

Amy Herzog's clever writing shows subtle insights into Abby's personality. She asks Alioune to guess how old she is and when he says "32" when she's actually 28, she is seriously offended. Abby chatters away nineteen to the dozen but she suddenly erupts in a scary way that screams mental health issues. Meanwhile Zack is getting more frantic when he can't find any more marijuana and we start to suspect he has a drug dependency.

The performances Michael Longhurst gets from his cast are excellent. Imogen Poots as Abby has only been in one play before, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. But she has extensive film experience and carries off this difficult part very well, walking on the edge of sanity.

All starts to unravel as we start to see more evidence of dysfunction but I cannot give away any more of the plot here. James Norton as Zack has cast himself as Abby's knight in shining armour, her rescuer and defender, but there may be a few too many chinks in his armour despite his best intentions. Malachi Kirby was the BAFTA Breakthrough Brit in 2016 and he has a confident stage presence which suspends disbelief.

Amy Herzog's conclusion is disturbing but I suspect there were many in the audience finding their own dysfunctional families tempered with light relief compared to life in Herzog's Belleville. For Simon Saltzman's review of Belleville in New York at the Theater Workshop go here

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by Amy Herzog
Directed by Michael Longhurst
Starring: James Norton, Imogen Poots, Malachi Kirby
With: Faith Alabi
Designer: Tom Scutt
Lighting Designer: Natasha Chivers
Composition and Sound Design: Ben and Max Ringham
Running Time: One hour 40 minutes without an interval
Box Office: 020 3282 3808.
Booking to 3rd February 2018
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 20th December 2017 performance at Donmar Warehouse Earlham Street London WC2H 9LX (Tube: Covent Garden)
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