Jude Law in ‘Obsession’ at the Barbican, London

The novella whence comes this production has been visited several times before. It started as James M. Cain’s crime novel The Postman Always Rings Twice, published in 1934. Banned in Boston, it splashed onto the scene with an edgy eroticism that raised eyebrows and the ire of many. A decade later, under Fascist rule the celebrated film director Luchino Visconti was able to release Obsessione, his debut film. Of the seven films derived from the source material, the best is probably the 1946 version with Lana Turner and John Garfield. David Mamet took a swing at the screenplay in 1981, with Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange. Director Bob Rafelson had worked with Nicholson as far back as 1968, on the Monkees’ underrated film Head.

Halina Reijn and Jude Law (photo by Jan Versweyveld)

At The Barbican in London, celebrated director Ivo van Hove tries his hand at staging the material. It must be the seemingly endless challenge of finding the core of the Cain’s novella, as it is not an entirely satisfying storyline. Nonetheless the impressive looking production at the Barbican is an ambitious but flawed effort. The acting by Jude Law and Halina Reijn is consistently strong. There is no sense they are phoning in their performances. The vast stage is used effectively, with innovative lighting and at least two eye-catching props. The smaller is a suspended accordion, that plays ghost-like at dramatic moments. The other, far more central to the story, is a suspended vehicle. Mostly a chassis and internal combustion engine, its power is a motif for the underlying sexual tension among the lead characters.

I was impressed that the producers were able to clear the use of Springsteen’s recording of This Land Is Your Land, which made a bold appearance about 2/3 of the way through the production. It was foreshadowed by Law’s harmonica playing entrance at the outset.

Give the Barbican, van Hove, Law and Reijn kudos for attempting this production, the source material has proven elusive for decades.

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.