Theatre, Drama
3 out of 5 stars
3 out of 5 stars
(23user reviews)
 (© Jan Versweyveld)
© Jan VersweyveldJude Law and Halina Reijn
 (© Jan Versweyveld)
© Jan VersweyveldJude Law
 (© Jan Versweyveld)
© Jan VersweyveldHalina Reijn and Jude Law
 (© Jan Versweyveld)
© Jan VersweyveldRobert de Hoog and Jude Law
 (© Jan Versweyveld)
© Jan VersweyveldHalina Reijn
 (© Jan Versweyveld)
© Jan VersweyveldHalina Reijn and Jude Law
 (© Jan Versweyveld)
© Jan VersweyveldHalina Reijn and Jude Law
 (© Jan Versweyveld)
© Jan VersweyveldHalina Reijn and Jude Law
 (© Jan Versweyveld)
© Jan VersweyveldJude Law and Chukwudi Iwuji
 (© Jan Versweyveld)
© Jan VersweyveldJude Law and Halina Reijn
 (© Jan Versweyveld)
© Jan VersweyveldHalina Reijn, Gijs Scholten van Aschat and Jude Law
 (© Jan Versweyveld)
© Jan VersweyveldGijs Scholten van Aschat, Halina Reijn, Jude Law and Robert de Hoog
 (© Jan Versweyveld)
© Jan VersweyveldJude Law and Halina Reijn
 (© Jan Versweyveld)
© Jan VersweyveldJude Law and Halina Reijn

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

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.



Users say (23)

3 out of 5 stars

Average User Rating

2.9 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:2
  • 4 star:6
  • 3 star:6
  • 2 star:5
  • 1 star:4
2 people listening
1 of 1 found helpful

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!

An intense, powerful, yet simple production that elevates the auditorium of the Barbican theatre. The pure elegance and simplicity is what makes Obsession a one to watch.

A grand space on stage with little to display. What was I expecting from Obsession? I didn't know what to expect. I felt the entire energy and the intensity of each actor. The darkness and the lighting made it a captivating production. The moving visuals on the walls around the stage really added that depth of suspense. Yes, it was a short show, but for me quantity wasn't important as is everything in life. The quality of Obsession was truly breathtaking and magnificent. There was a scene where Jude Law just stood on stage and all that I could hear was the sound of waves. It was truly beautiful to sense that and to see part of the stage rise to reveal waves of the ocean. What a spectacle indeed.

I thought the stage design and the props on stage were incredibly realistic. The cast worked perfectly well within the space to give the best show ever.

Obsession really depicts the beauty of love, of humanity and of pure emotion all in one. The alluring darkness of it all really sunk in. I felt every bit of it. The experience between the ravishing Gino (Jude Law) and the exquisite Hanna (Halina Reijin) was immensely exciting. Their passion and desire combined create a powerful, magical bond. Their presence together was intoxicatingly exhilarating. It definitely gave me chills.

It was all visually stunning to look at.

It's a small cast of talented individuals that bring life to this production.

The scenes where the motor was used shocked me completely. It was all precisely crafted, most especially the effects of the oil dripping on stage. I felt that the oil from the machine represented the blood. This truly was a phenomenal part of the show for me.

The cast poured their heart out successfully to the audience. I felt the pressure and the tension within the auditorium.

Definitely do take advantage of the Young Barbican tickets if your 25 or under as prices are brilliant.

Immense yourselves in Obsession.


Love MD.

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.


Intense and powerful, Jude Law definitely stole the show for me. The set was well done and it was a good use of the vast space that the barbican theatre offered. The oil murder scene is particularly memorable. Not sure what all the fuss is about the treadmill as I thought that was fine and helped to build into the story. The rest of the cast was extremely solid as well. Highly recommend if you can even get a seat... Had to keep trying for a return ticket!

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!


Mixed feelings for the latest Ivo van Hove's production. While the Belgian director has done brilliant production in London theatrical scene (i.e. the view from the bridge), in this perfomances does not manage to achieve the previous high levels. In some points, the transition from one scene to the other is a bit rough/unrelated while in other points the play moves too slowly without adding anything positive to the overall result. Jude Law as expected; a brilliant actor not only in the big screen but also in theatre.

When you look at the setting, you know it's Van Hove right away: a beautiful, stripped back space that will, you suspect, get more messy as the play progresses. 

That is pretty much a metaphor for the whole production, really.

Obsession could have been brilliant, but the pieces don't fit together. Even Jude Law and Halina Reijn's chemistry can't carry the mismatched space/music/dialogue, which is a shame because they're really good. The moment of intimacy they share near the beginning is one of the most erotic things I've ever seen in a theatrical production... but then we just observe a series of discontinuous vignettes that don't hold together as a play.

On the whole, Obsession isn't a complete disaster, it's just frustrating. It's kind of worth seeing for Law and Reijn, but there are better things on in London right now.

Went to see Obsession starring Jude Law and was a bit disappointed. Jude is a great actor, who is still fit and looks great in nude (well, almost) scenes, which there were plenty as you would expect for this story. 

As for the play - apart from the movie icon presence, there were nothing. Even the chemistry or passion between lovebirds were absolutely absent. It looked like they were colleagues in a supermarket.. Lots of trash on the floor added to the association. Then it was some strange imitation of a truck which was spitting some black substance meant to be blood. "The best" set decoration was a treadmill machine - a very sad construction on the floor. They must have overspent on securing Jude that anything else was like 'that'll do'. The culmination was when a dead man covered in the black substance (i mentioned above), stood up and started mopping the floor. I hope he got paid double-shift - for the key actor and for the cleaner. Then there was a very large cinema screen showing some sea movements, meant that he went by the sea, duh. As it was in the Barbican Centre which is a huge minimalistic modern architecture creation, the set was the huge empty stage so only a few actors were struggling to fill the space hence they were moving around a lot for no reason.  I was really hoping that the last scene would be very powerful, showing obsession to its highest when he killed his love but instead they just switched off the light. 

Go and see Jude Law and don't worry about the play. 

Jude Law is a fine stage actor but even his muscular and brooding presence could not save this play. Stylistically, the production does evoke memories of classical black and white cinema. The stage is huge and mostly bare apart from a few props that are integral to how the story unfolds. I imagine the treadmill could divide some people. Though they were physically attractive actors, I did not feel the chemistry between the two illicit lovers. The nudity may have been a tad excessive and the dialogue may have been a little stilted. There is no interval and I found myself looking at my watch an hour into the play. The ending is just plain odd.

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


Obsession is well acted, Jude Law and Halina Reijn are both good. The direction is classic Van Hove, big sparse set, both the stage and the actors getting very messy, and lovely use of both technology and sound. The story is good, it has, after all, spawned three quite different and successful films. So, I'm not sure why this stage production was not to my taste. Maybe, it was too abstract. I did feel that everything was full of symbolism, but that some of it I didn't understand. Why did Joseph sing opera, why did Anita bare her breasts at Gino at that precise moment, why did Johnny meet nicer people at the seaside?

I have few individual criticisms of the play, I felt the nudity was gratuitous and possibly even sexist. Why was Hanna nude but not Gino? There had been a very well done and sultry sex scene earlier where they were both clothed, so why change this for the bath?

There are some great moments, and the ending is brilliant, but this show was less than the sum of its parts and it did not hold my attention throughout.

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.

0 of 1 found helpful

poor theatre; should have been performed as a musical or opera; the theme is otherwise too cheesy

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