Review: Obsession (The Barbican)
Updated: Jun 10
Obsession. It’s about a couple of people who are obsessed with each other, trouble is one is married. And that’s it. One could be forgiven to believe that’s the blurb to an episode of a soap opera, but this is in fact a carefully crafted tale of mindless lust gone wrong. It’s a bare-bones story that seems almost tailor made for director Ivo Van Hove and his style of taking minimal themes and exploring them in in the tiniest of looks and the smallest of gestures. I really enjoyed this style in “Hedda Gabler”, so I was eager to see how it transitioned to an adaptation of the famed Italian film “Ossessione”.
The design, firstly. The set is a large wooden floored room that changes from being a bar to a garage to a concert hall with simple change in lighting. Impressively, it did the job quite effectively for the most part, though at times it seemed just a little bit am-dram (for example during the car crash, when I couldn’t quite convince myself they were on a busy highway at night). You can’t ask for more when you’re watching a play where the characters are living in a boring and empty existence, but if you’re looking for an exciting stage image you’ve come to the wrong place. The main feature was a large tractor engine that was lowered from the rafters and roared when our lovers Gino and Hanna and her straight-up unpleasant husband Joseph were driving a truck. This centre piece was used in the scene in which Joseph snuffs it, and the style and vicious physical theatre with which this was executed was stunning.
This, I am sure, is what most of the audience thought of our lead actor Jude Law as Gino. Being under 40, I couldn’t appreciate this particular asset to his performance. The rest of it? There were things I admired, but for the most part it felt like he was trying so hard to become his character (the personality of which isn’t exactly obvious from the text) that he forgot to act like a real person. That’s all well and good if you’re trying to be styled for a message or to evoke a particular reaction, but it was just quite difficult to engage with. Halina Reihn’s performance as Hanna was better, though there were several moments where the representation of women was questionable.
However, neither of them are the star of the show. This is Hove’s baby, and you can tell he’s pleased as punch with it. Everything is so precise, so deliberate, that you can just see the director’s confidence in his work. There’s no way to criticise it because he hasn’t made any mistakes, and he certainly wouldn’t have directed it any other way. It just so happens that it doesn’t make any sense to me. Call me a philistine but every scene just seemed to feature some stuff happening for little obvious reason beyond creative lunacy or genius. Drinking milk with a travelling choir girl? Sure! Throwing rubbish while singing opera? Why not! Dry humping a seemingly unconscious Jude Law? If you say so! It is difficult to summarise a performance like the one I saw last night because I’ve certainly never seen anything like it before, but it will make sense to someone. Someone, somewhere, will see this and be totally in awe of Hove’s mastery, the rest of us can only sit and wonder what we’re meant to be seeing. Two stars.