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Fatal Attraction

by on 24 March 2022

Dangerous Games

Fatal Attraction

by James Dearden

Smith and Brant Theatricals and ATG at Richmond Theatre until 26th March, then tour continues until 7th May

Review by Eleanor Lewis

Anyone not familiar with Paramount Pictures’ 1987 film Fatal Attraction would nonetheless probably be familiar with the term ‘bunny boiler’ (a term born in that film) to describe a violently unstable (female) ex-lover.  The film, in which a married man spectacularly fails to put his one night stand behind him, is now a stage play written by James Dearden who also wrote the screenplay, which is probably why it’s such a strong theatrical adaptation.

Amongst the many elements of Fatal Attraction the story – it’s a cautionary tale, a fable for our time and a great thriller – there is also the reflection it presents of the changing sexual mores of our western world.  In the late ‘80s the film had a different ending to the one it has now, on stage.  In 1987 focus rested on the rage of the rejected lover Alex, any moral condemnation of married Dan was almost perfunctory and tempered with a large dollop of sympathy.  In 2022, after 35 years progressing towards equality for women, the MeToo era, and greater awareness of mental health issues, the lines are still blurred but the focus has significantly shifted. 

The story itself concerns Dan (Oliver Farnworth), his wife Beth (Louise Redknapp), and Alex (Susie Amy).  One week-end Beth takes the couple’s daughter off to the country to look at houses with a view to the family moving out of New York where Dan is a hotshot lawyer.  Beth has given up her career to care for their daughter and is trying to get pregnant.  Dan spends an evening in a bar with his happily divorced friend Jimmy (John Macaulay) and as he’s about to leave he meets Alex, who is also a lawyer.  They bond over a drink and a meal and then move on to her apartment where they have slightly comical stage sex (recreating sex on stage is probably always weird).  Dan assumes both of them know this is nothing long-lasting or important, so he’s content to leave it at one night.  Alex persuades him to go back for a second night and from that point things spiral inexorably downwards to full-on out-of-control carnage.

Oliver Farnworth as Dan, started from a point of nervous tension and descended through stress to desperation but stayed poignantly bewildered as to how any of this had happened to him when he was the one in control.  He prefaced many of his interactions with “I understand” or “I’m a lawyer, I’m good at negotiating”, until the point of no return when his pleas were ultimately desperate, “I’m the complainant here, I’m the injured party!” and not even victim-status will save him.  His friend Jimmy’s carefree view of male-female relations: “we can’t help it, we’re programmed that way”, may be true but is inevitably subject to Beth’s retort later on, “actions have consequences”.

Susie Amy, playing the potential monster Alex, gave her a personality something of a backstory and enough character to make her sympathetic as the victim of loneliness and-or mental illness, as well as a raging ego.  Louise Redknapp as Beth was doing fine as the wife living in blissful ignorance until the crucial scene in which she finds out the full horror of her husband’s betrayal at which point she seemed unable to rise to horrified and distraught, and stuck with really quite irritated, which lost her some credibility.  The strength of this production though is the story and the telling of the story rather than its component parts.

There were clunky bits: every time a male character sat anywhere on stage his ‘manspreading’ knees were at 180°, trouser seams straining; Alex’s wardrobe was strangely drab, and the Cluedo-style prop in one of the final scenes a tad cringeworthy but the production nevertheless works; it’s still engaging, thrilling and clever.  This has a lot to do with set, lighting and sound.  Morgan Large’s set was a huge floor-to-ceiling backdrop of rectangles curving around the back of the stage, almost giving a sense of ‘little lives, rounded’, though these lives are “made on” nightmares rather than dreams.  Onto the backdrop are projected the moving walls of an upmarket bar, the office with Manhattan skyline out of the windows, the country house, or various video calls and texts.  It was lit atmospherically, often darkly, by Lighting Designer Jack Knowles and complemented by Sound Designer Carolyn Downing’s effective soundtrack which increased the sense of urgency and ramped up the tension.

The notorious fate of the rabbit was, again, a little flat on stage and begs the question as to whether it actually needed to be done.  The audience reaction to Dan’s arrival on stage with a live rabbit in a carry case was possibly enough to make the scene in which the creature’s fate is sealed redundant.  Reaction to an offstage discovery might have had equal or better effect.  It probably doesn’t matter, either way this is exciting, interesting full-on theatre and highly recommended.

Eleanor Lewis, March 2022

Photography by Tristram Kenton

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