Obsession, Barbican, review: ‘Despite Jude Law’s best efforts, Van Hove’s production is flat’

PUBLISHED: 15:44 28 April 2017 | UPDATED: 15:44 28 April 2017

Barbican/Toneelgroep Amsterdam,  Obsession, Jude Law and Halina Reijn. Picture: Jan Versweyveld

Barbican/Toneelgroep Amsterdam, Obsession, Jude Law and Halina Reijn. Picture: Jan Versweyveld


Ivo Van Hove’s stage adaptation of Visconti’s film misses the mark and opts for effects that are avant-garde for the sake of it, leaving characters undeveloped

Luchino Visconti’s Ossessione was a revelation in 1943. Banned by the fascist government in German occupied Italy, the film never made it past the country’s borders until the late seventies, but when it did, it was hailed as a pioneer of Italian neorealist cinema. His focus on the slow pace of daily life and its mundanities was a departure from the glamour of that era of film.

While there is nothing glamorous about Ivo Van Hove’s stage adaptation at the Barbican, there is very little that mirrors the original in impact.

Obsession tells the story of nomadic Gino (Jude Law), who encounters Hanna (Halina Reijn) and her abusive husband Joseph (Gijs Scholten Van Aschat) at their roadside restaurant. The immediate attraction between Hanna and Gino leads to a passionate affair and their murder of Joseph. Rather than a release from the guilt of their adultery, the crime leads them further from the happy life they hoped for.

The two leads give truly admirable performances, but even with Law’s best efforts (which are great; he displays desperation, passion and despair with equal credence) Obsession falls flat. Despite some steamy scenes, there is little chemistry between the pair from the offset.

An excellent cast is failed by the direction. Instead of increasing intensity, the prolonged silences and sparse dialogue function only to make the production feel vacant. Interesting supporting characters are underserved in favour of gimmicks that are avant-garde just for the sake of it.

Embarrassment ensues when I let out a chuckle, presuming that the use of a treadmill to signify running away is a humorous wink to visual effects employed in films of Visconti’s era – but it soon becomes apparent that this is just exactly what it appears.

The irony of the ending is lost in a shower of black oil, and the overwhelming impression I leave with is pity for the poor sod who has to clean up this mess every night.

Rating: 2/5 stars


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