Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: Obsession; the Treatment

Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: Obsession; the Treatment

Article excerpt

Obsession at the Barbican has a complicated provenance. The experimental Belgian director Ivo van Hove adapted the show from a Visconti film based on the novel The Postman Always Rings Twice. This version originated in Amsterdam and was rendered into English by a London playwright. The story mixes surrealism with torrid carnality. Sexy Hannah is married to nasty Joseph, who runs a failing hotel. Hunky Gino (Jude Law) seduces Hannah. Let's elope, he suggests. No, says Hannah. Gino hangs around the hotel mending a truck engine parked by Joseph in the foyer. Gino gets the engine working and it soars upwards and hovers 30 feet in the air. But even with a miraculous levitating engine to attract the punters, the hotel remains empty. Gino runs away and meets gay Johnny, whose hobby is impersonating Edith Piaf. Having spurned gay Johnny's advances, Gino bumps into Hannah and Joseph who are heading for a talent contest. Joseph has remembered that he's not just a failed hotelier, he's one of Europe's leading tenors. His big aria wins the competition. They celebrate with a booze-up which turns into a wrestling match and a sort of groping session beneath the hotel's prize exhibit, the hovering engine, which unexpectedly disgorges a hundredweight of black treacle on to the squirming threesome. Joseph dies of a treacle overdose.

Later it emerges that this oily tableau alludes to a traffic accident. The plot then curdles into a life-insurance payout mystery. It's weird, visually scruffy, narratively misshapen and perfectly unengaging. Gino, bored with Hannah, turns to drink and scowling. They indulge in tantric sex sessions, fully clothed, but these are less erotic than they might have been because we've just seen them stark naked having a bath in a dustbin. Johnny shows up at reception and Gino punches him so hard that he falls into a pile of litter. Gino then drags Johnny by the left leg clockwise through the litter. He then changes leg and drags him anti-clockwise through the litter. This demonstrates that the director is alive to the possibilities of contrapuntalism.

The story finishes at the seaside, which is conveyed to those viewers still troubled by consciousness with a film clip of wavelets projected on to the back wall. Gino stands in silhouette beside the foaming shoreline, alone, proud, defiant, and, basically, a bit of a git. And this is the problem. Without any social context, without any sense of place or time, the focus is restricted to the inner lives of the characters, who are all simpering windbags and self-pitying egoists besotted by lust and misanthropy, and unaffected by brains or imagination. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.