THEATRE / The cream in her coffee: Rhoda Koenig grapples with Obsession in Battersea

THEY MEET when he rings her bell one day and stays for a cup of coffee. She goes to his flat, he goes back to hers. They visit a gallery and giggle at what passes for art these days. She quizzes him about another woman, he is annoyed when she accepts another man's invitation for coffee at his place. 'You saved my life,' he says. 'You've ruined my life,' she says. He slams her head against the wall. With its short scenes that skip backward and forward through an adulterous affair, Obsession may aspire to comparison to Betrayal, but it's more like Further Adventures of the Gold Blend Couple.

Stripped of detail about their lives and backgrounds, Douglas McFerran's two characters are not only baffling but boring and, finally, incredible. We see Nick briefly messing about with a drawing and a T-square, so he must be an architect. But what is the work that keeps Nina busy on Saturday night, yet allows her to slope off for afternoons under the duvet? Considering the amount of time she spends in galleries, one assumes it has something to do with art, though her interest has a strong erotic focus. At an exhibition of the Vienna Decadents, she explains, 'The whole death imagery thing symbolises orgasm.' More recent imagery leaves Nina cold. When Nick suggests, at another show, that they make love on a soft sculpture, she says, 'I wouldn't dream of consecrating that heap of cowshit with the approbation of my sacred womanhood.' In the next-to-last scene, Nina reveals that she has become an art director at a publishing house and is producing a book on Kokoschka. 'He turns out to have been an extraordinary guy.' Not only did he have a mistress, but 'he was totally potty about her.'

Of Nina's family, we learn only that her husband is called Jack, and that her mother wanted her to be proper and would be shocked by all this rumpy-pumpy. Of Nick's life beyond the eiderdown, we learn nothing. Perhaps McFerran intended that, free of distracting personal information, his characters would represent pure, raw passion. But without those defining, colouring details, they are reduced to talking in cliches long abandoned by the more respectable women's magazines: 'I owe it to myself. I've got to try something else.'

In Bill Pryde's production at Battersea, as little heat as light is generated by Douglas Hodge's puppyish Nick and Tessa Peake- Jones's arch, domineering Nina. When Nick returns a tool he borrowed from her absent husband, Nina takes the opportunity to display her legs and offer one-and-a- half-entendre DIY advice about drilling deep and inserting rawl plugs. Nina's tough talk (after three years with him, she tells Nick, 'Let's face it, all I get from you is cock') doesn't go with her chatter about loving and being in love, nor does it discourage Nick, who, in their fourth year together, is begging her to marry him. Though Nick is younger and more pleasing than Nina, he doesn't outgrow his pottiness until she is unfaithful: supplied with a psychological CV, one might believe in his immaturity and masochism; without it, one can only find him a case of passive stupidity.

Just as we're stumped for an explanation of why the affair begins and carries on, we're not told why it vanishes without trace. Accidentally meeting Nick a few years after they part, Nina manages a fourth-form metaphor about a meteor: 'The tremendous white heat of its body has consumed it, until there's nothing left.' A better clue might be found in the final scene, in which Nina, at the height of her feeling for Nick, declares with thundering irony, 'We're going to love each other forever.' Disregarding the vital beverage of their relationship, Nick has poured her a cup of tea.

Battersea Arts Centre, London SW11 (071-223 2223)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence