Fatal Attraction wants to have its bunny and boil it too. On the one hand, writer James Dearden has dragged the Glenn Close and Michael Douglas erotic thriller into the modern day, seemingly in an attempt to wrestle with outdated gender stereotypes. But on the other hand, it seems hellbent on reinforcing them. The reason for the 2022 (rather than 1987) setting is never quite made clear (even after Thumper meets his rather messy end). It’s also, crucially, incredibly un-sexy – an erotic thriller sans eroticism.
In case you don’t know the story, hard-working father Dan (Oliver Farnworth) gets caught up in a one-night stand with the mysterious Alex (Kym Marsh). There’s never any real condemnation of what Dan does – men, we’re told, are simply “programmed that way”. The affair continues and Dan’s lies to his long-suffering wife Beth (Susie Amy) play out over FaceTime calls projected on stage in real time in a mildly dated-looking interface. From a production standpoint, the modern setting is far more effective when it comes to sound design, the slowly bubbling electronic soundtrack creating a strong sense of dread throughout.
When a classic film is rebooted in the present day, it’s smart to question what the creator is trying to say about our current moment with these older stories. Fatal Attraction walks a confusing line, where the fact that the film is dependent on old-fashioned gender stereotypes is sort of addressed, but never in any real depth. Had they kept the show in the Eighties setting, sure, we’d expect it. But bizarre allusions to consent and loneliness are strung on as if in preparation to cover their backs. Similarly, the play ends differently to the film, but it’s not an ending that is particularly more sympathetic to Alex – or ever explained.
When it comes to the bunny boiler herself, it’s clear that Alex is unwell. Psychiatrists have retroactively theorised that the film paints a picture of someone with Borderline Personality Disorder, but the show does not know how to engage with this. Instead, we watch her graphically self-harm and are expected to think it’s been handled sensitively because Dan asks if the police were notified or if she went to a hospital. Fatal Attraction wants to have it both ways, but these vague comments can’t shake the overriding message that b****es really do be crazy.
Given the content of the film, it’s surprising that the best moments in the show are the funny ones. The audience knows the story and what’s coming, so every mention of Dan’s daughter’s new pet rabbit is met with pre-emptive chuckles – especially when the hutch appears on stage containing an actual bunny. There are far more laughs in the second half, although it does make cringe-inducing lines such as “what would any hot-blooded, heterosexual American male do?” feel even more jarring as they’re uttered without a trace of irony.
The production is held together by Marsh, who is doing The Most as the spoon-licking temptress Alex. She’s somehow able to bring moments of subtlety to a character we expect to be a pure stereotype and her New York accent is by far the least dodgy in the production. Unfortunately, there’s negative chemistry between her and Farnworth. Without the help of any special lighting tricks, the first kiss that ushers in their demise feels like a non-event. The film is so gripping because you believe that raw, animalistic connection between Douglas and Close – even when you know it’s wrong. Without it, you’re left wondering why either of them went to all this trouble in the first place.
‘Fatal Attraction’ tours the UK until 7 May. For more information, visit fatalattractionplay.com.
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