Ivo van Hove, artistic director of Tonnelgroep Amsterdam, has taken up residency at the Barbican. He follows his highly praised productions of Shakespeare, Arthur Miller and Ibsen with a disappointing production based on the Luchino Visconti’s first film, Obsession, which was based on JM Cain’s 1934 American crime novel, The Postman Always Rings Twice, a term synonymous with sexual duplicity. The story has been filmed many times since, most notably in 1946 with John Garfield and Lana Turner and in 1981 with Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange.
Jude Law now plays the drifter who becomes obsessed with a frustrated wife (Halina Reijn) and helps her to murder her husband (Gijs Scholten van Aschat). As you would expect, van Hove strips the film down to essentials and gets rid of all the Italian Neo-Realism that made it so distinctive in 1942.
Instead he goes all out for the theatrics and eroticism. The stage is enormous and largely bare. The dialogue is terribly stilted and desperately needs a dramatist to work on it. I think you would be much better off watching Visconti’s film, or indeed the two American ones.
Christopher Hampton’s comedy The Philanthropist, a big success in 1970, is a witty, civilised and urbane conversation piece. Set in a university, and modelled on Molière’s Le Misanthrope, it was written when he was in his early twenties. Who would have thought that a bunch of intellectuals sitting around chatting could have popular appeal? The originality of Simon Callow’s production at the Trafalgar Studios is that he has cast all the characters young. He is following Hampton’s instructions, who wanted the actors to be between 25 and 33, but perversely the dialogue feels all wrong. The play is much better than their acting suggests. Simon Bird, who made his name in The Inbetweeners, hasn’t got the stage experience to carry off the lead role and looks more like an undergraduate than a don.
There are many legends about the Taj Mahal. In Guards at the Taj, at Bush Theatre, Rajiv Joseph concentrates on the most horrific fiction. On the eve of its unveiling in 1648, Emperor Shah Jahan, who had it built as a mausoleum for his favourite wife, decrees that nothing as beautiful shall ever be built again. He orders that every man involved in the building should have his hands chopped off. Forty thousand hands are severed. Danny Ashok and Darran Kuppan as the imperial guards, who carry out the order, are a good double act.
The Braille Legacy at Charing Cross Theatre is Sébastien Lancrenon and Jean-Baptiste Saudray’s musical tribute to Louis Braille and his code for the blind. The pastiche score and uninspired lyrics never feel right. Thom Southerland, a brilliant director of musicals, tries hard to make it work – covering up the weaknesses of the banal book with lots of unnecessary movement and an upstairs-downstairs cube structure which fills the stage and rotates quite meaninglessly.
How to continue reading…
This article appears in the Catholic Herald magazine - to read it in full subscribe to our digital edition from just 30p a week
The Catholic Herald is your essential weekly guide to the Catholic world; latest news, incisive opinion, expert analysis and spiritual reflection