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Review: Jude Law in Obsession, Barbican Theatre

ImageObsession is the latest production from Ivo Van Hove and the second in a trio of plays he has at the Barbican Theatre this year. Based on the 1943 Italian film which in turn based on James Cain's controversial crime novel The Postman Always Rings Twice, it is set in a nondescript café run by a Giuseppe (Gijs Scholten van Aschat) and his much younger wife Hanna (Halina Reijn). When handsome drifter Gino (Jude Law) turns up, Hanna is quickly charmed and Giuseppe is initially suspicious but when he proves useful around the café Giuseppe lets him stay, inadvertently sealing the fate of all three.

It is a dark and brooding play full of Van Hove's trademarks - close ups of key scenes projected as video on the back and side walls of the stage, stripped back dialogue (Simon Stephens has done the adaptation) and pregnant pauses which are punctured by passionate physical encounters and outbursts. The huge Barbican stage is sparse, a cafe counter which is Hanna's domain, a truck engine suspended in the middle which is Giuseppe's and a old-fashioned square basin which is used for washing.

There is an ordinariness to much of what goes on, Van Hove lingering on the domestic routine. It accentuates the physicality of those moments when a more raw, primal emotion breaks through. There is something of a pacing, impatient animal in Jude Law's performance that marks him as dangerous charmer from the outset.

The problem is that at times the play can feel quite pedestrian while at others it crackles and sparks with tension. Given its dark narrative and the types of passion explored it feels like it should be more of a roller coaster ride. Van Hove doesn't spoon feed the audience but the subtlety can get lost on the vast stage.

I'm a huge fan of Van Hove's work but this doesn't feel like it is up there with his best. It's an hour and 50 minutes without an interval and you can see it at the Barbican Theatre until May 20. I'm giving it three and a half stars based on comparisons with Ivo Van Hove's other work.

 

 

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