Review: Belleville (Mad March Hare Theatre Company)

madmarchhareVenue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Apr 30 – May 12, 2016
Playwright: Amy Herzog
Director: Claudia Barrie
Cast: Josh Anderson, Taylor Ferguson, Chantelle Jamieson, Mansoor Noor

Theatre review
Whether or not one believes in “happily ever after”, there is little doubt in the truth that relationships are never completely smooth-sailing. When people are bonded together, what keeps them from breaking up are not always snowdrops and daffodils. Amy Herzog’s Belleville is about the poison that can fester in romantic unions, observed through a married American couple, Abby and Zack, disquieted and displaced in Paris. We see them trying to make things work, but the only thing they share is a chronic anxiety about being together, the causes of which the playwright keeps concealed until the end. In our efforts to explain the mystery of their circumstance, we access our own understandings of how things can go awry between two people who have grown so close, thereby reflecting an unfortunate universality of the experience.

It is a play full of intrigue and danger, brought to the stage by director Claudia Barrie who creates a disarming tension from the unrelenting but subtle details of the couple’s relationship collapse. Their unnamed dysfunction is made palpable by Barrie’s flair for manufacturing suspense, and our minds are kept racing in response to the mysterious plot. The production is confidently designed by a team who taps into the undercurrents and subtexts of the writing, to address the less deliberate parts of our consciousness. The characters struggle to say what they mean, but their feelings are manifest in the atmosphere that we share. Performances are committed and thoughtful, with all actors proving to be dynamic and entertaining, although some moments could be less tentative. Abby is played by Taylor Ferguson who does a marvellous job of expressing physically what her role is unable to put in words, and Josh Anderson’s volatility as Zack keeps us on tenterhooks, wondering if and when he is going to reach a point of nervous breakdown.

Paris is the city of love, and many dream of its enchanting and exotic perfection, without ever having stepped foot in it. Indeed, Paris represents a kind of quixotic approach to romance that is fundamental to its appeal. We want what we have never experienced, certain of the fulfilment it will deliver without knowing what it actually contains and entails. Abby and Zack arrive at their point of difficulty because of decisions made on a basis of weakness, conformity and resignation. They went after something they knew nothing of, and find themselves stranded in a space of destruction and hopelessness. If they get out of it alive, they can leave ignorance behind and head into the future with brighter minds, but if they remain trapped, the end can only be calamitous.