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Nastazja Domaradzka

Review: OBSESSION at The Barbican Centre

Obsession Ivo van Hove is currently one of the most acclaimed theatre directors in the world. His 2014 production of A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE has forever changed my understanding of not only approaching well know texts but also of the possibilities that the exploration of both time and space can create for theatre makers.

No doubt time and space have been one of the most important ingredients in Van Hove’s creative process. In his adaptation of Luchino Visconti’s 1942 movie Obsession, based on James M. Cain novel THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE; the Belgian director once more lures the audience in by creating a vivid alien world full of astonishing visual moments.

For anyone who is not familiar with Visconti’s OBSESSION or with the 1983 movie THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE starring Jessica Lange and Jack Nicholson, the piece ultimately delves into the animalistic nature of desire and violence. Gino (Jude Law), a handsome vagabond falls for Hanna (Halina Reijn) the abused wife of the owner of a roadside inn Josef (Gijs Scholten van Aschat). An impressionable idealist Gino soon finds himself trapped and the lovers decide to eliminate the only obstacle that prevents them from their idyllic life; soon a murder is committed.

Van Hove’s OBSESSION does not revolve around the literal meaning of desire and violence instead he creates a world full of understatements that exist in a vast and cold space, created by Jan Versweyveld, a master in constructing sets that assist van Hove in his quest of deconstructing old stories and making them into new and relevant ones. Versweyveld’s set and video designs are simply breath-taking, open and clinical, yet confined; the set creates a world in which the rules of time and space are constantly bended and the audience is asked to accept these rules; rules of the world in which engine oil makes for blood and the actors are ready to bow before the final moments of the piece.

Jude Law seems to trust van Hove completely and the stylised nature of the piece suits his openness and vulnerability. One moment his performance is subtle, understated and the next his emotional range is fully explored, making his performance compelling and at times disturbing. Whilst Law and Reijn are quite believable as a pair of lovers, Reijn as a performer makes a great contrast to Law, which in fact creates an intense and incredibly enthralling energy between the two. The Dutch actress is completely uninhibited by any form of acting style and the essence of her performance is her capability to exist truthfully in the world of the play. Her body is fully in synced with her mind: she is completely present the whole time.

OBSESSION, like most of van Hove’s work is not an easily accessible piece of theatre. The Belgian director never provides any answers to his audiences and just when you think you understand the rules, you are proven wrong. Nothing is literal and whilst most of the criticism towards this production seems to point towards self-indulgence and a lack of physical and intense desire between the two main characters, I believe that similarly to van Hove’s LAZARUS, a David Bowie musical, the power of this production lies in its multi-layered form of expression.