Play Review: Obsession - National Theatre Live


I went to see the broadcast of "Obsession" play on May 11. It was broadcast live from the Barbican Theatre in London and was only about an hour and a half long with no intermission. The play is a new stage adaptation of Luchino Visconti’s 1943 film. I have never watched the movie, but I was attracted to this play because of two things: one, the main protagonist Gino is played by Jude Law, whom I had never seen on stage; and two, the play was produced by Ivo van Hove, whose in Hedda Gabler I really enjoyed (he also produced A View From The Bridge).

The movie “Obsession” that this play is based on, was quoted to be the first neorealist movie and an unofficial adaptation of the novel The Postman Always Rings Twice (the book that I have heard of but never read).


The play was introduced by a short video clip of the rehearsals and interviews with Ivo van Hove and Jude Law.


Here is the synopsis of the play from NT Live:


Gino is a drifter, down-at-heel and magnetically handsome. At a road side restaurant he encounters husband and wife, Giuseppe and Giovanna. Irresistibly attracted to each other, Gino and Giovanna begin a fiery affair and plot to murder her husband. But, in this chilling tale of passion and destruction, the crime only serves to tear them apart.


No matter, how much it hurts me to admit it, but I was extremely bored throughout the play. The stage decorations and props are so few and minimalistic that it leaves most to the imagination of the audience to decide when the characters are eating, sleeping or how much time has passed. I understand that it comes from the premise and the background of the story: Giuseppe and Giovanna are poor - their restaurant is void of customers when Gino stumbles in. Gino himself barely has enough money for one meal and definitely not enough things to call his own. Even though the attraction between Gino and Giovanna is portrayed interestingly through movements and glances, their love story is nothing new. The whole plot felt trite and predictable, and I was grateful that I didn’t have to suffer through more than one act of it.


Jude Law is great as Gino, both alluring and wild, but Giovanna was barely anything at all as a character, and it is sad. The most exciting part of the play was how van Hove decided to portray murder and blood. Instead of an actual car, there was a car engine hanging a bit over the stage. It revved and smoked and produced black oil-like substance that covered the characters on stage as they grappled and twisted in fight. That black slime represented the blood and crime, and that was probably the most unique setup that I have ever seen. Definitely an ingenuous idea on Ivo van Hove's part.


But otherwise it was so uninspiring - I found the behind the scenes footage more interesting to watch than the actual play - that I couldn't help glancing at my watch, and it never happens! Slightly disappointed, but otherwise content, if not happy, to have seen both Jude Law’s and Ivo van Hove’s work on stage. Can’t say it is something I would recommend, unless you are a fan of either or the movie.


Personal rating: 3 stars