29/08/2014 - 20/09/2014
PSYCHO THRILLER, QU’EST-CE QUE C’EST?
Voted by the New York Times as one of the top 10 plays of 2013, American playwright Amy Herzog’s taut, genre-busting play Belleville marks the latest New Zealand premiere from Silo Theatre, playing the Herald Theatre from August 28th.
Zack and Abby are doing the whole twenty-something, expat thing in the most romantic city in the world. She’s teaching yoga and he’s saving lives, working for Doctors Without Borders. It’s enviable, it’s idyllic, it’s young love. But are they really living the dream or just sleeping with the enemy? Sometimes the most dangerous lies are the ones you allow yourself to believe.
Earning comparisons to the maestro of suspense Alfred Hitchcock and iconic playwright Henrik Ibsen, the prodigal Herzog weaves together a claustrophobic thriller for Generation Y with nerve-wracking tension and slow-burn intensity. Set in Paris’ multi-ethnic suburb of Belleville, Herzog screws with the stereotypical idealism of Paris as the “City of Love” whilst triggering a series of questions about Generation Y’s sense of entitlement to success and happiness and their inability to deal with suffering and disappointment.
Belleville sees the return of powerhouse Silo actors Sophie Henderson and Matt Whelan after recent star turns on the silver screen – Henderson earning accolades for her dramatic work in Fantail which she also wrote. The high-calibre performers reunite on stage for the first time since their riotous comedic turns in Silo’s 2012 production Private Lives. Belleville provides refreshingly serious dramatic terrain for these two talents to push their smouldering chemistry to new limits. Oliver Driver also returns to the director’s chair for this production after helming Silo’s 2010 production Assassins and Auckland Theatre Company’s Mark Rothko drama Red.
Herzog’s praise since her stunning arrival in 2010 with After the Revolution has been near universal. Lauded for her bitingly honest portrayals of her own generation, The New York Times has cited Herzog as “one of the brightest new talents in theatre”. Earning an Obie Award in 2012 (4000 Miles) and a 2013 Outstanding Play Drama Desk Award nomination for Belleville, Herzog was also a finalist for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize – a prestigious award for English-language female playwrights.
In this production Silo welcomes two young emerging actors into their fold: Karima Madut (A Thousand Hills) and Tawanda Manyimo (Gwen in Purgatory and The Rover), both of whom have been involved with the phenomenal Mixit programme in Auckland. Mixit provides an innovative platform for young people with refugee backgrounds to come together with Kiwi and migrant youth to express themselves and share their stories through creative arts projects. Madut (Sudanese, born in Kenya), and Zimbabwe-born Maniyimo complete the Belleville cast as Zack and Abby’s French-Senegalese landlords in the hip new immigrant suburb of Belleville.
A seething play of thrilling twists and turns, Belleville is a drama that grabs you from its first breath.
“A psychological thriller as suspenseful as any Hitchcock film.” – CHICAGO TRIBUNE
For more information visit silotheatre.co.nz
Herald Theatre, Auckland Live, 50 Mayoral Drive, Auckland CBD
Dates: 28th August – 20th September
Mondays and Tuesday, 7pm; Wednesday to Saturday, 8pm.
(No show Sunday)
Tickets: $30 – $55 (booking fees apply)
Bookings: Ticketmaster – www.ticketmaster.co.nz or 09 970 9700
CAST: Sophie Henderson, Matt Whelan, Karima Madut, Tawanda Manyimo
Satisfying, meaty and complex study of challenging relationship
Review by Janet McAllister 03rd Sep 2014
A knock at the door sounds like hammering with an anvil in this Silo Theatre production, but clever, compelling Belleville is really only playing dress-up as a thriller. Its taut, insightful portrait of a millennial marriage is the real element of interest here.
Beautiful neurotics Abby and Zack are undergoing their quarter-life crises in Paris – city of broken American dreams. Playwright Amy Herzog skilfully captures their claustrophobia, isolation and shifting power dynamics but also their attraction, recounting the relentless, infinite number of “new beginnings” in a challenging relationship. It feels real: the couple know the conversation subtext before the audience does; as they should, given they’ve been married five years.
Directed by Oliver Driver, both Sophie Henderson and Matt Whelan give committed, brilliant, absorbing performances, making us believe in the couple’s long-term intimate familiarity. [More]
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Review by Matt Baker 02nd Sep 2014
Other than its professed Hitchcockian style and some season-orientated pensive posters, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Silo’s production of Amy Herzog’s Belleville other than a psychological relationship thriller. Hitchcock, however, was the undisputed master of suspense. Red herrings are not MacGuffins, and where Hitchcock would show, Herzog tells.
There are, of course, moments of drawn-out silence in Oliver Driver’s direction, where the drama occasionally balances on a knife’s edge, but otherwise these characters spend a lot of time talking. Herzog has said that “the play is about, among other things, this [romantic idea] being totally deconstructed and savaged for [Abby],” and while said deconstruction does occur, its lack of sustained progression becomes rather boring. [More]
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A test of actors’ stamina and audience generosity
Review by Vanessa Byrnes 30th Aug 2014
Silo Theatre’s latest offering of this single setting drama is not an easy night out. Packed as it is with four fabulous actors on John Verryt’s semi-naturalistic set, it has all the elements of a tight drama. But overall, it sidesteps its audience and fails to deliver the punch it seeks.
We are brought face-to-face with the angst of Zack and Abby, two Americans living in Paris. This is not the romantic Paris of our imagination or Abby’s parents’ memory; it’s the gritty, noisy, rent-chewing contemporary Paris. More specifically, it is the district of Belleville, or ‘beautiful village’, which is anything but.
Parker’s set cleverly raises the stage of the Herald so that we’re more intimately engaged with the drama than this space would normally allow. The working plumbing (shower/bath) and props (food/knife) add to this sense of intimacy. These things are strikingly observed.
The always-fabulous Matt Whelan brings creepy terror to Zack, a troubled man who is most certainly not what he seems. This is a troubled, dark character who seems slightly unhinged but ‘normal’; in fact he is praised by all and sundry for his impressive standing in his medical career. Whelan is a gifted actor who makes sense of Zack’s obsessive side. He understands how to let an audience into the clues that a single moment can offer.
However, the challenge is the play itself. From the first scene, involving ‘iMacus-interruptus’, we bring serious judgment to bear on his character. Empathy leaves the building early on and this makes it hard for Whelan to garner sympathy for the subsequent action that unfolds.
The backstory, revealed through Abby’s narrative, is at times very wordy and bordering on neurotic. Sophie Henderson gives an extremely strong performance and, like Whelan, is totally committed to the role. Henderson has emerged as a fine actor with emotional chops.
Tawanda Manyimo as Alioune and Karima Madut as Amina – the patient landlords – support the drama well. Their practical natures are an essential counterpoint to Abby and Zack’s less grounded selves.
In this thriller, Abby’s fear or underlying dread that something is rotten in the state of Belleville is right. Henderson nails this mental fragility. The clues are there, if only she had seen them, or followed them up if she had noticed them … There are fish-hooks in the story to lead both Abby and the audience towards a trail of clues. I won’t spoil this by disclosing any more.
The play seems to be concerned with the malevolent level of mistrust that can exist between husband and wife, and the masks we wear in front of the ones we love the most. Unfortunately the key resolution remains unknown, and this leaves too much of a confused ending for me. I feel slightly duped. I imagine one finish while my companion has another. The two women next to us have a third outcome in mind.
I wonder if my disconnect from the play (at times) is a cultural dislocation. There’s a lot of talking about the self, and this can sometimes be seen as more interesting in an American context. Empathy is an essential element to build in a thriller and it’s challenged here.
Oliver Driver’s direction brings out the intimacy between the characters, and the drama is rife with subtext. The extended silences equate to too much dead space on stage, though, and I don’t feel the production earns the credit for such drawn-out reticence. This frozen space is simply not hard-won, even with Sean Lynch’s excellent lighting design and Thomas Press’s evocative sound design.
Belleville is brave on many levels and it’s an equally fearless programing choice from Silo. It also tests the stamina of its actors and the generosity of its audience. But it seems to miss one essential ingredient: that live, ‘present moment’ quality between actors and audience; “the curious communication that goes on” between them, as one of the greatest actors of our times, Mark Rylance, puts it. Perhaps this vital element will come as the season develops.
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