Review - Belleville starring James Norton and Imogen Poots at the Donmar Warehouse

Mark Shenton
Mark Shenton

Director Michael Longhurst piles on the sense of millennial anxiety and brooding menace in Amy Herzog's 2011 relationship drama about a young, newly married American couple in Paris, living in the neighbourhood of Belleville.

She's seriously depressed but trying to wean herself off anti-depressants. He's got something (plenty!) to hide, like the fact that he's not paid the rent in four months to their Senegalese landlord Alioune, with whom he otherwise spends time happily getting high.

In other words, he's self-medicating while she's an avid avoidant, keen to retreat to a hot bath whenever the pressure gets too much.

To say more would be a major spoiler, but the only thing to say is that it spoilt my day. It's not an easy play to watch - I had to look away more than once - but neither, alas, does it always repay your attention. It's an anxious, edgy but perplexing play about characters dancing around the abyss of their lives and failing relationship together.

It is, however, at least partially redeemed by the quietly stunning performances of James Norton and Imogen Poots, two fast-rising stage and screen actors, whose naturalistic and complicated unease with each other is palpable. Also extraordinary is Malachi Kirby, named a BAFTA Breakthrough Brit in 2016, as the landlord and Faith Alabi as his partner.

In the midst of more seasonal fare like pantomime, Pinocchio, multiple versions of A Christmas Carol and Matthew Bourne's Cinderella that are playing around town, it's refreshing to see the Donmar offering a more serious and earnest diversion; but it may play better in the bleakness of the post-Christmas hangover (of which there is a monumental one portrayed here) than the pre-Christmas buzz. 

Belleville is at the Donmar Warehouse until 3rd February 2018. 

Originally published on

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