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Review: Belleville

Initially striking is the intense unlikeability of the central characters, who often feel like a physically realised manifestation of millennial anxiety and ignorance. Yet, it is precisely this fact which renders the action of the play compelling- the text itself is an exquisitely executed tale of destruction, and Zack and Abby, played by Jack Detweiler and Daisy Paterson, spiral downward as if led to their doom by predestination. These are highly emotionally demanding roles, all the more admirably committed to by Detweiler and Paterson for just a two day run.

Set in a single space, across the span of less than a day, Belleville is as much an Aristoletian tragedy which reveals, progressively, the extent to which a marriage has come undone, and a highly contemporary interrogation of relationships, modernity, race, and privilege. Paralysed by unfulfillment and profound shame, both consider themselves victims, and we are left, rather than with answers, with an opportunity for self-interrogation. Indeed, it is creeping, and insidious, inspiring a palpable sense of discomfort as the audience and actors become further entwined.

Salma Bencherif and Salem El Tabal play the couple’s landlords, Amina and Alioune, second generation Senegalese immigrants who stand in stark contrast to Zack and Abby. Besides the window they serve into a very different migratory experience: one punctuated by necessity and opportunity, rather than driven by, harshly put, frivolity and the whims of the personally dissatisfied elite, Bencherif and El Tabal refreshingly offset the plot’s intensity, infusing some much needed humour and vivacity. Their disillusionment with Zack and Abby’s vacant promises and insistence on zealous friendliness underscores the play's interrogation of language and truth. Their presence is essential insofar as it highlights that the corrosive effects of the couple’s American idealism are more than merely psychological, carrying real material consequences for those around them.

Set entirely in their Paris apartment, establishing a space which feels particularly and progressively more lived in. This only exacerbates the sense that despite a proliferation of lies, and a fundamental dishonesty underlying each interaction, privacy has been violated, and we, the audience, are unwelcome voyeurs. Directed by Henry Empson, the staging and use of space is one which successfully captures the tension between characters, and investigates intimacy in close quarters. Abby is in a state of constant movement, which, fueled by her anxiety, increases the sensations of claustrophobia. It may be, too, particularly telling that the play’s climax occurs in the bathroom, off stage, and behind a locked door: the only physical barrier which remains, the only boundary yet to be broken.

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