Belleville, by Amy Herzog | Directed by Claude Barrie

Red Line Productions and March Hare Theatre Company | Old Fitz Theatre (http://www.oldfitztheatre.com), Woolloomooloo, Sydney | Until 12 May

We arrived at the Old Fitzroy Hotel, better known simply as the ‘Old Fitz’, on Friday night for a delayed opening. It’s one of my favorite city venues, full of charm, warmth and friendliness, and it was pumping, despite the drizzle. Opening night of Belleville, presented by Mad March Hare Theatre Company in association with Red Line Productions.

We grabbed a drink, ordered some reasonably priced fare from the kitchen and headed upstairs to the lounge. Instead of the normal hand-bell ringing to call patrons to the theatre, Purple Rain was blasted through the pub as a nod to the sad loss of Prince, another giant of our musical  tapestry.

It was a surprise to see the set was a full-blown lounge room, complete with candles, curtains and curios. Normally, it’s a tiny space minimally dressed, but Jonathan Hindmarsh (set designer) invited us into a Parisian maisonette.

Director Claudia Barrie says of the play: “There are quite clearly some serious issues with our society today. Belleville looks at some of them in a delicate and honest way. It addresses issues of depression, dependence and grief. Of love and letting go. I have no doubt that writer Amy Herzog wrote this play because she herself, like many of us, has experiences some of these issues. This is a contemporary play that is full of the familiar. My hope is that, like me, you can sit in the theatre and watch these moments and relate to them. Some delightful, some heartbreaking. But all true. And if this means that you can share some of that with your friends in the bar afterwards, then this play has done its job.”

Well, that’s exactly what it does. My plus one and I sat stunned as a combination of our lives played out before us. Already transported to our 20s by Princes’ Purple Rain, we watched as Zack (Josh Anderson) reminded us of our own early years of relationships and marriage. His casual interpretation of the truth and his hopes to keep Abby safe in the pretend world he had invented for her was as beautiful as it was frightening.

Abby (Taylor Ferguson, who with only one week’s notice had taken over role from Emily Eskell) carried the script almost invisibly throughout the intense 85-minute play and filled the room with her palpable fragility and vulnerability — a pre-Christmas, far from home, couple of hours as her world slowly crumbles.

Neighbours and landlords, played by Mansoor Noor, Aldo Mignone and Chantelle Jamieson, slipping in and out of the apartment and slipping in and out of French, added to the feeling of displacement and homesickness.

Art imitates life. Once again Red Line Productions nails it. Don’t miss it.

Above and below: Taylor Ferguson and Josh Anderson in Belleville.