A pattern emerges. A hot American playwright, dripping with prestigious awards, is honoured in London with a transfer of their best-known work. And it turns out to be all right. Not bad. Nothing special. The latest wunderkind to wow London is Amy Herzog (five plays performed, six awards received), whose marital bust-up drama Belleville is set in a glamorously derelict corner of Paris.
Abby and Zack, both 28, are newlywed Americans trying to shore up the wreckage of their European gap year. Abby wanted to learn French but has stopped attending classes. Instead, she’s studying yoga although the lessons are regularly cancelled. And her acting career seems to have stalled. She’s still grieving for her deceased mum and fretting about her pregnant sister while indulging in long, needy conversations with her widowed dad. Her husband, Zack, is a bigger mess. He works for Médecins Sans Frontières but his porn habit and his weed addiction mean that he spends most of his afternoons sprawled across the ethnic scatter cushions in a post-orgasmic daze. He’s behind with the rent and saddled with secret debts, and he keeps burning up more and more precious money in the hash pipe that he shares with his landlord. Can such a basket case really hold down a hospital job? And why hasn’t Abby spotted the looming disaster?
The script evolves as a series of revelations, of escalating severity, which eventually bring the characters crashing down. It’s one of the simplest off-the-peg designs available to a dramatist but it takes a master (like Arthur Miller in All My Sons) to prevent the play from slithering into a sequence of predictable shocks and jolts. The actors (James Norton and Imogen Poots) are sophisticated, charming and gorgeous to look at.