Belleville from Silo Theatre opened last night to a captivated enthralled audience. Amy Herzog’s play is a personal and intrusive look at a relationship in decay. It’s a white knuckle ride of theatre with tension that had me holding my breath, and shaking with adrenaline after the dramatic finale.
Feeling a little claustrophobic in the second row of the Herald Theatre, we were thrust into the apartment of American couple Zack and Abby in Belleville, Paris.
The play opens by showing us that all was not well in this young couples marriage. Abbey returns home from a shopping spree to find her husband, who she expects to be at work, having some alone time with his laptop! This incident in itself only caused a small quarrel, however upon attempting to repair this masturbation misdemeanour the real drama starts to unravel. The plot begins to deepen when landlord Alioune visits to ‘smoke a bowl’ with Zack, and we realise that Zack is not quite who he says he is.
The tension that builds over the hour and a half play really took me by surprise. The first sighting of a menacing knife makes you shiver with fear, even when you’re not quite sure why? Watching this couple gradually slip deeper into lies, secrets and paranoia is a captivating and thrilling experience. The excellent script allows for some extra long silences, and off stage sound affects that all add to the electric atmosphere of emotionally charged theatre.
Tawanda Manyimo and Karima Madut play landlord’s Alioune and Amina. Manyimo is ultimately the good guy, who acts as the perfect supporting role to Zacks secrets. The wonderfully awkward scene between Abby and Alioune is perfectly played, and will make you squirm in your seat. Madut’s role allows Abbey and Zack to hold a mirror up to their lives. Her disapproving stares intimidate them, but ultimately she conveys sorrow. With their shared dialogue spoken in French, they have to infer more with their performances, and their sadness echoes silently and subtly.
Sophie Henderson and Matt Whelan are outstanding as leads Abbey and Zack. I was totally bewitched by them. In what must be an exhausting play to perform, they both gave five star performances.
Henderson’s Abbey is a vulnerable, emotionally volatile ‘fish out of water’ type, who desperately wants to be happy. This is a challenging role with underlying paranoia and anxiety. Henderson gives a honest and raw portrait of a damaged woman struggling to ignore what’s right in front of her. Her drunken scene will leave you wincing but transfixed. A brilliantly brave laid bare performance.
Whelan transforms from a fun loving, pot smoking all round nice guy, to a terrifying ‘Jack Nicholson in The Shining’ character. His ability to jump between the self he shows Abbey, and the real him, is addictive to watch as he slowly unravels, and ultimately implodes. A powerful and wonderfully frightening portrayal of a man collapsed by his own lies.
The stage direction is excellent, with the actors always on stage they cleverly allow for time lapse and scene changes by only dimming lights and adding moody and sometimes uncomfortable sound.
I loved the set that showed the whole apartment to the audience, this evoked a proper fly on the wall voyeuristic feeling. There were only a few doors blocking the action allowing the actors to go out of sight momentarily. Graffiti painted walls help make the environment slightly grim, dim and creepy.
I was wonderfully unnerved by this intense atmospheric thriller. An exhilarating production that will draw you in, and keep you there long after the curtain call.
Reviewed by Ingrid Grenar