Chantelle Jamieson talks about Belleville and the passion of acting on the stage

Amy Herzog’s Belleville had a critically acclaimed run Off-Broadway in 2013, and in Melbourne last year. Now, Mad March Hare have brought their production to the Old Fitz Theatre in Woolloomooloo, which runs until May 12.

Actor Chantelle Jamieson talked to me about the vibrancy of director Claudia Barrie, solving problems and her love of the stage.


Can you quickly tell us what Belleville is about and your role in it?

Sure. The play is about an American couple in their twenties who go on a kind of sabbatical, I guess. They’ve been in Paris for about six months when we meet them. And it’s about – like a tight, tense drama between this couple based around their expectations from each other and life.

And they are juxtaposed with this French couple, of whom I am one. I play Amina and my husband is Alioune. The difference between the American couple and the Parisian couple is quite stark. You’ve got this privileged, white couple in their twenties and then this ethnic, Muslim – not very strict Muslim – couple from Paris. It is about the difference in their expectations from their relationships and from life.

That sounds intense.

(Laughs) Yeah, it’s a really intense play, I think. There are light moments throughout, but the tension that gets created between the American couple and, as a byproduct, the tension between them and the French couple, it’s palpable. The play runs about 80 minutes, so it’s very tight. It’s a great play.

I hear it’s very good. What about when you read it? How did it come across your… desk, for lack of a better word? Was it something that you wanted to do straight away?

Yeah. Claudia (Barrie) , the director, sent it to me. Because it’s such a strange play, reading it off the page you don’t necessarily get all of the shifts in gear. It wasn’t until actually hearing it and playing with it that the intelligence comes through. But the message that she (Herzog) has about the difference between the two couples and their experience, because of the type of people that they are, it is fascinating and really, really well done.

You’re doing some TV work? Crownies? Is that still going?

No, Crownies finished a few years ago. But they span it off into Janet King.

I’ve been spending time overseas in America as most Australian actors tend to do, because there are more opportunities there. Especially for someone who looks like me, definitely more opportunities overseas. It’s nice to actually, because I’ve got a theatre background, from WAPA, it is nice to actually be doing something on stage.

What do you prefer?

I prefer stage. I do. If I could work in theatre for the rest of my life I’d be very, very happy.

The Old Fitz is such a nice theatre as well. I really like going there.

And what Jonathan (Hindmarsh) has done with the set design is beautiful. The Old Fitz – I don’t think it’s ever looked this good. It’s really gorgeous.


Do you know how much of that design, or how much Claudia bases her choices, or how much you base your choices on successful runs before? Or do you just take this script and start fresh?

It was very much about starting fresh. You can’t really attack something… each process is different. The problems that you solve during the rehearsal process, or through the design process, the answers that you find are kind of personal to whatever the journey was for that process.

The way that Claudia has solved the problems in this play – I mean, you get the play and solve things on the evidence you’ve got, that the playwright has given you – she has done it in her way. I’m sure it’s very different from how it was performed in America and in Melbourne last year.

How is Claudia compared to other directors that you’ve worked with?

Claudia was actually a huge draw card in taking this play on. There are lots of statistics, but there are less female directors out there. Or, sorry, there are probably just as many female directors out there but less opportunities. She is young, vibrant and is really in it for the work. I think it makes it easy to turn up to rehearsal when you’ve got someone who is so positive and so committed, even if it is co-op theatre.

Well, it’s more important there, really, than anywhere else.

Exactly. That’s the joy of co-operative theatre. Everyone whose there is taking part because they want to. That’s what you have to bring to the table. Otherwise, what’s the point?

I’ve heard that you’ve had a bit of a journey with this one. Is it Emily Eskell who had to drop out? She’s alright?

Yeah, she is. Obviously, she wasn’t well enough to continue. She’s a fabulous actor, and so gifted, but these things happen.

We were so fortunate to find Taylor Ferguson, she has jumped into the role of Abby and she is brilliant. So we’re rehearsing our butts off for five days and we’re previewing on Wednesday. To have someone just jump into the role is kind of incredible.

You never know. As you said, the way that it gets to the stage informs as much as anything else.


It might work out. It will! I’m sure it will.

I think so. And it’s really, for us, who’ve been playing with this for two, three months, to have a completely different energy in the role is really, it’s exciting. I mean, we haven’t opened, but it’s about rediscovering things that maybe we took for granted during the process. Which is great.


Belleville is running at The Old Fitz Theatre in Sydney in Wolloomoolloo until 12 May. For more info and tickets head to The Old Fitz website.


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