Theater Update: Obsession Premieres in London

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The new play from director Ivo van Hove comes to the Barbican, starring Jude Law.

Two years after its production of Hamlet starring Benedict Cumberbatch broke London box-office records, the Barbican Theatre is aiming for another blockbuster with Obsession, adapted from Luchino Visconti’s 1943 neorealist thriller of the same name. Once again, the lead actor is a stage-trained movie star, in this case Jude Law, on a career upswing with his TV series The Young Pope.

Perhaps as much of a draw is Flemish director Ivo van Hove, whose critical acclaim has turned him into a celebrity in his own right. Incongruous as it may sound, the pharmacist’s son from rural Belgium, who once studied to become a lawyer, is now the hottest name on the London stage. Provocative and eclectic, Van Hove rose to prominence as the director of the Toneelgroep Amsterdam (which coproduced Obsession) and has gone on to helm hit shows on both sides of the Atlantic. Most notable is his 2015 production of Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge, which earned him both an Olivier and a Tony award for best director.

Obsession, based on James M. Cain’s high-pulp novel The Postman Always Rings Twice, is the kind of tense, heady plot Van Hove’s defiantly minimalist approach is best suited to. (In fact, he’s grappled with Visconti three times before, including a merciless, excoriating take on The Damned.) Law plays Gino, the handsome drifter (portrayed by Law look-alike Massimo Girotti in Visconti’s film) who falls for the trapped younger wife of a roadside restaurateur and gas station owner. The lovers plot to murder her husband, but their passion ultimately leads to destruction. Doesn’t it always.

Adapting classic cinema for the stage is no insubstantial challenge (see Glenn Close’s Sunset Boulevard... or don’t), but with Van Hove at the helm, we are surely in for a raw yet redemptive night at the theater.

Obsession runs April 19 - May 20, 2017 at The Barbican Theatre in London; theatre.barbican.org.