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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Belleville
Donmar Theatre  Winter 2017-2018

Amy Herzog's drama of a troubled marriage might be a lot more effective if the marriage weren't quite so troubled. 

As is, Herzog dumps so many neuroses, dysfunctions, secrets and lies on her central couple that they threaten to become psychology textbook archetypes more than living people we can relate to. 

Zack and Abby are Americans living in Paris. She gets through her days with pills and passive-aggressive manipulation, and he survives on pot and panic. She can't go more than a couple of hours without a phone call to Daddy, while he needs a toke at least that frequently. 

She is prone to occasional binge drinking leading to 24-hour blackouts, and he has been living so many lies that just about everything we learn about him in the first half of the play turns out to be untrue. Both are aware enough of the other's fragility and their own dependency that they tread on eggshells around each other. 

And so it isn't all that surprising that everything eventually crumbles, and that neither of them has the emotional or psychological resources to cope with the rubble. 

Every drunken-night-in-a-troubled-marriage play for the past 55 years lives in the shadow of Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf, and so it is no particular shame that Herzog's play isn't as great as Albee's. But the inevitable comparison highlights two particular differences. 

Albee was able to guide us past the surface oddness of his couple to find a shared humanity we could sympathise with, while Herzog's just get freakier and freakier the more we learn about them. 

And Albee found a core of strength and courage in his pair that offered glimpses of hope at the end, while Herzog clearly shares the judgement of her couple's landlords who, while literally clearing away the rebbish, agree that nothing of any importance happened here. 

Still, there are characters in pain up there on the Donmar stage, and our attention is held, if mainly by our curiosity to find out what new burdens the playwright will load them with and how long they'll be able to cope. 

Under Michael Longhurst's direction James Norton and Imogen Poots work diligently to make these case studies come alive, while Malachi Kirby and Faith Alabbi as the landlord-neighbours are given little to do but look on disapprovingly.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -Belleville - Donmar Theatre 2017  
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