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Review: Obsession, at the Barbican

05 May, 2017 — By Howard Loxton

Halina Reijn and Jude Law in Obsession

THE latest collaboration between Toneelgroep Amsterdam and the Barbican is based on Luchino Visconti’s 1942 film Ossessione, a front-runner of the Italian neo-realist cinema, but Ivo van Hove’s production doesn’t go for cinematic realism.

Everything happens on a wide, open stage. A counter on one side looks more like a hotel reception than the café of James Cain’s original story, a truck chassis hovers over the stage. A very minimalist presentation puts the actors into stark prominence.

Obsession is the tale of a penniless drifter called Gino who turns up and cons a meal but wins owner Joseph over by repairing his vehicle. There is an instant attraction between Gino and the man’s bullied wife Hannah and only minutes into the play they are having wild sex on the floor. It’s a toxic triangle that leads on to murder.

Jude Law is a very sexy Gino, even when he keeps his shirt on and stands motionless as the action happens elsewhere.

Dutch actress Halina Reijn is Hannah, trapped in her abusive marriage. They are as much on heat as the squalling cats Gijs Scolten von Aschat’s Joseph goes out to shoot at.

The elegance of the staging runs counter to the realistic poverty of the movie. Law and Reijn give powerful performances but van Hove makes them passionate puppets in a production that emphasises its own theatricality, they even run away on a floor treadmill.

There’s a scenic surprise as grandiose as the swelling sound of Eric Sleichim’s pervasive music. It is not by chance that half way through Obsession’s 100+ minutes Joseph enters an opera-singing contest. The whole production has operatic dimensions but its effects feel too self-conscious, too clever.

Until May 20
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