Jude Law stars as a murderous drifter in Ivo van Hove's frustrating adaptation of a classic film
Last time he was on the London stage, Jude Law took the lead in a notably unadventurous West End production of ‘Henry V’. So you can understand why he’d head in the opposite direction this time. It’s just a shame his desire to work with pioneering director Ivo van Hove hasn’t resulted in one of the prolific Belgian’s better shows. ‘Obsession’ comes across as such an odd, often clashing, mish-mash of ideas that it’s frequently hard to detect the exact point.
It’s an adaptation (by Jan Peter Gerrits) of Luchino Visconti’s 1943 film ‘Ossessione’, which tells of a drifter, Gino, whose passion for Hanna – an intense younger woman married to an older man – is reciprocated, with disastrous consequences. The story is best known in its original novel form, James M Cain’s ‘The Postman Always Rings Twice’, which was made into a film of the same name.
Law is a jolly good stage actor, and he does his best here, pouring all the strength of feeling he can muster into Gino’s desire for Hanna (Halina Reijn), then his later anguish as he starts to suspect she has manipulated him. There are restrained, arty sex scenes that are kind of sexy in a restrained, arty way.
Unfortunately neither Law nor Reijn – who between them account for most of the play’s lines – have much to get stuck into. Both are good actors, but their roles are insubstantial, especially for a marquee-name film star. I’d love to see what Simon Stephens, one of Britain’s best playwrights, would have made of the story if he’d rebuilt it from the ground up, but his ‘English language version’ is pretty minimal, presumably just polishing up a translation of Gerrits’s screenplay-like script .
As such the dialogue is sparse, melodramatic and untheatrical. The lack of depth to the adaptation also means ‘Obsession’ fails to really interrogate the film’s politics, meaning it’s in real danger of coming across as a bit of a meninist bleat about an innocent bloke who falls prey to scheming women desperately trying to cage his rugged spirit etc, etc.
The main reason why ‘Obsession’ remains worth a look is on technical points: Eric Sleichim’s sound design, in particular, is ravishing, a watery world of drips and ticks, feverish bursts of opera and glistening electronics. At its best it heightens the melodrama to something redolent of David Lynch; even at its worst it leaves the play feeling like a beautiful piece of kitsch.
Van Hove is undoubtedly an auteur, but his best work in this country has ultimately been based around big acting performances, be that Hans Kesting in ‘The Roman Tragedies’, Mark Strong in ‘A View from the Bridge’ or Ruth Wilson in ‘Hedda Gabler’. In ‘Obsession’ there is no great lead role, and Law feels like an impressive adornment on some fascinating, baffling, maddening invention.
Average User Rating
2.9 / 5
- 5 star:2
- 4 star:6
- 3 star:6
- 2 star:5
- 1 star:4
It was absolutely terrible. The stage was far too big and wasn't very interesting. Jude Law did give a good performance, I just feel the directing was terrible (a shame because I loved Lazarus and A view from the bridge, oath from the same director).
The audience weee laughing at times, it was just embarrassing. A few people left mid way through. I went in thinking it was going to be really good but it was so disappointing!
The microphones on the actors weren't great either. Just felt like a very awkward production!
I have learned a long time ago to not prejudge a production based on reviews alone. For every time a production is roundly slammed by critics and audience members where it is fully justified, eg Salome, Don Juan in Soho, there will be another like Obsession, where it appears there has been an overemphasis of one detail the reviewer disliked or a personal dislike of a particular director or actor affecting the audience's ability to provide a fair summary. I found this really strong and compelling and the odd 'artistic'touch by the director never detracted from the two leads. Both Law and Reijn were tremendous, with Law particularly commanding the huge and partly empty stage. I like productions which don't condescend or talk down to the audience. If you can get a ticket, make up your own mind. Unlike Salome or Don Juan which are fully deserving of scorn and brickbats, this is a genuinely engaging and intiguing play which will have you thinking back upon it days later.
Three stars is about right. Frustratingly close to great. Jude Law is terrific as always and Halina Reijn whom I hadn't seen before is well matched with him. Those two have fantastic chemistry and rise above the sometimes muddled production. I liked the large minimalist stage which suited the Barbican and was used effectively as a counterpoint to the heat generated by the leads. But, this really needed better dialogue and tighter direction. I am glad I ignored the mixed reviews and kept my ticket as on balance this is worthwhile if not wholly successful. The acting of the leads alone validated my decision to attend. Unfortunately can't say the same about The Philanthropist and Don Juan in Soho which I saw last week. Oh dear. How I wish I had taken heed of the universal bad reviews about those two absolute stinkers. Can't possibly be as bad as everyone says? Simon Bird, David Tennant and Adrian Scarborough are perfectly ok actors, I thought. Surely they will make me enjoy it even if the play is so-so. Walked out of both at interval. Garbage acting and garbage writing. No interval in Obsession though, so just as well I enjoyed it mostly!
Much much better than some reviews would indicate. Jude Law is wonderful in this. He is a theatre actor who seems to rise above the material. His Henry V a few years ago was the best I have ever seen despite a duff set design and lacklustre cast and quite rightly won huge critical acclaim. There is much to admire in this production and it's nice to see directors trying something more challenging. Definitely worth experiencing. I saw this two nights ago and the audience responded very positively.
While this has consolidated at around 3 star level reviews from critics and audiences (good but could do better), I found much to admire in this production. Law really is a force of nature in this. Raw, physical, simmerimg while Reijn is equally compelling. Their chemistry sits like grimy steam over the stage. It's signature van Hove, which for me is decidedly a *good* thing. I can understand though why it hasn't quite succeeded for some. I suspect this will be much better reviewed when it transfers to Amsterdam. This has certainly whetted my appetite for the September productions. Four stars.
The script delivers a play that lacks depth, it's like watching an animated storyboard. Performances are as good as can be given the material
I have mostly loved any of the Ivo van Hove productions I have experienced with the recent Rome cycle among my theatrical highlights of the last few years but somehow, despite the elements of another brilliant show being all present and correct, this didn't gell for me. Individually, everything was as you would imagine for a van Hove production - use of video screens, spare set, moody lighting, lots of closeups, killer silences, unusual juxtaposition of music, actors drilling down into the essence of the play, BUT *something* is missing. The audience seemed quite split too: some harrumphing, some standing ovations. Certainly not the disaster of the scale of the Tennant-led Don Juan in Soho some are painting it but wouldn't be surprised if this really divides critics. Jude Law is perfectly cast and Halina Reijn is gorgeous. It certainly hasn't put me off seeing Persona later this year. I'll pump for 3 stars. I think for a van Hove novice this could be quite a confronting night at the theatre. Friends who generally like van Hove who have seen this seem to be settling around 3 stars too. Go see it if it sounds like your thing, but if it doesn't choose something else. Early reports of Arturo Ui at Donmar are very good. Seeing that in May.
This was a production I really wanted to like, but in the end it just didn't really come together. We saw it only on the second night, so maybe there's still time to fix things. It is visually arresting - the stage is gargantuan, the lighting is stark, and in some ways it feels more performance art rather than theatre. I don't know if it was deliberate but the use of monochromatic tones does give it an old cinematic feel. The use of the props is imaginative and at times disturbing, but in a good way; for example, the carcass of a car/engine that rises and falls ominously above the actors and then squirts oil on them. But there is something rather off too. I thought about it afterwards and perhaps one of the issues is that this is supposed to be a hot, sultry Italian affair, yet the actors are English and Dutch, so there is a certain coolness and antiseptic way to the way the lines are delivered. Sure, there's shouting and raising of voices, but somehow there didn't seem enough spice or heat. I was just never really convinced that anybody was really obsessed with anybody else, rather, everybody seemed detached and going through the motions of reciting their lines. So despite some of the interesting imagery, in the end it really failed to deliver and we all thought at the end - what was the point of it all?
Probably the worst play I have ever seen. The stage prop are ludicrous: treadmill, murder in oil, throwing bins, slapping meat... The acting terrible: Actors have mikes so when they shout, which they do a lot of, it sounds hysterical. There is no sexual chemistry... Yuk. It was so bad I was counting to 60 in my head to see whether I could speed up time. Best decision ever was to leave 30 minutes before the end
It was awful. Irredeemably dull. An empty vanity project for all involved. A case of the Kings new clothes. Ivo Van Hove over stretched and over praised. He needs a rest.
Still early days in previews which I think may be reflected in some negative word of mouth. The set and staging is amazing in the Barbican space and adds to the feeling of this being a real event. Law is mesmerising, all menace and sex. The production feels a bit underpowered at the moment but I am sure it will improve. Three stars for now as of course it's not perfect yet but if everything comes together, this should be a knockout. If not, hmmm, there is nowhere to hide. Quite thrilling to see whether this risk pays off. Will try to get tickets if I can for later in the run.
A play based on a movie - tricky, no? When you as a director try to compete with the passionate Visconti who made the 1943 classic of the Italian neo-realism, the chances of a failure are pretty damn high.
The play disappoints - despite much nudity (that looks rather forced), there is little sexual tension on the stage. Actors deliver their lines ok, yet the direction is almost absent. Jude Law is remarkably well built - the sweat and blood of persistent gym work are evident - yet his physics are not enough to drive the plot.
In the absence of terrific acting and sex appeal, the plot boils down to the cliches. The reaction of embarassment for what actors do on the stage strikes a few times during the show.
Unexpected trip back to London with tix for this tonight as side bonus. Jude Law simply superb. Magnetic yet unknowable. An incredibly layered performance. Completely had audience in the palm of his hand. Pin drop territory. Halina Reign? Gorgeous. New to me. Did I like the play? Not sure. Bit like The Goat, this is going to be Marmite. (I loved The Goat BTW). I surrendered to the languid pace and just let it flow over to me. Law and minimalist production design are five stars. Play itself and direction not so much. Like below I can see this getting five stars from critics who have a crush on IvH and one star from the more stick in the muds. Me? Four stars, but mostly for Law.
As always with van Hove you really have to go several times. The first to capture the entire production in one vast sweep so you can develop a mental map, the second to focus on particular aspects and lastly to just let it wash over you. Obviously early days but it's the first time I have felt equivocal about a van Hove production. I will put that down to unfamiliarity with the source material. Impressions are many deep uncomfortable silences, very reminiscent of the atmosphere of 60s B&W European films, a mood piece, confronting, cool, clinical at times, not sure Barbican suits this, audience should be smoking so that the smell and texture of stale cigarette smoke permeates the theatre. Van Hove never makes it easy for the audience. Couldn't call this enjoyable but it gnaws away at you. Law of course is perfect casting and has the kind of theatrical charisma and seedy glamour which just oozes out of him. I honestly am not sure I was on the right wavelength tonight for this but damn it was stylish. Going to say 4 stars but I can see critics drooling over this and if you adjust your mood to langour, dangerous silences and supressed desire and violence, think this might end up being a big 5 star hit. Probably not for the crowd who think Don Juan in Soho or The Philanthropists is a grand night out. For theatre connoisseurs.