‘Fatal Attraction’ is a show which starts off in high gear, and just keeps getting faster finds Steve Timms.
A seminal performance text, Peter Brook’s ‘The Empty Space’ has served as a blueprint for many theatre practioners since its publication in 1968. ‘Holy Theatre’, believed Brook, was the goal of all great artists: to create a piece of work which crossed into the realm of the spiritual, and fostered a feeling of communion between actor and spectator. Not everyone cares about such things, sadly. Brook reserved most of his ire for so-called ‘Deadly Theatre’. This is the worst of Broadway and the West End; commercial theatre with deadly directors performing works by deadly playwrights, all adhering to well worn formulas dictated by economics rather than art.
If he’d been in the audience on the opening night of ‘Fatal Attraction’, it’s fair to say Brook would have started foaming at the mouth. Adapted from the hugely successful 80’s film – one of the cultural touchstones of the period – this stage version has a lot wrong with it. Where to start? The tone is melodramatic when it needs to be truthful; strident when introspection is required. Some of the dialogue is stilted, and teeters on the edge of camp. ‘I felt so bad’, says lead character Dan Gallagher (Oliver Farnworth), in one of many audience monologues, ‘she seemed so vulnerable – so fragile!’
He’s talking about Alex Forrest (Kym Marsh), a girl he met in a bar. She’s a lawyer, and so is Dan. They have things in common, and an easy chemistry. Sadly Dan is happily married to Beth (Suzy Amy, still remembered as Chardonnay in ‘Footballer’s Wives’). At first Alex accepts that their one night stand was just that. But when she discovers she’s pregnant by Dan, Alex decides she wants his child, and needs him to be involved in its upbringing. When he refuses to play ball, things turn ugly.
James Dearden was Oscar nominated for his ‘Fatal Attraction’ screenplay, and has had a hit-and-miss directing career since then (‘A Kiss Before Dying’ was ropey, ‘Pascali’s Island’ an under-rated gem). But he’s primarily a screenwriter, not a playwright. What works on film can seem contrived and unconvincing on stage; in some scenes, whole swathes of film dialogue are simply copied over. In the original, Dan and Beth had a young daughter. Dearden has kept the family theme but there’s no child performer in this production, merely a disembodied voice off stage; at times, it feels like we’re listening to a ghost child from a Japanese horror film. ‘I’m going to call her Casey!’ says the ghost-child when her dad brings home a pet rabbit (will Casey live to see Christmas? Let’s not spoil the fun).
When Beth discovers Dan’s infidelity, an argument develops, but escalates far too quickly; these dramatic shifts needs light and shade to work, but director Loveday Ingram seems unconcerned about giving these characters an interior life. There are very few pauses. ‘Fatal Attraction’ is a show which starts off in high gear, and just keeps getting faster. There’s even an off-stage car crash, and an accidental moment of hilarity when Beth rocks up – post operation – in a wheelchair and wearing a pair of killer Raybans. Perhaps the best way to pull off a tale like this is via the black comedy route (say, in the manner of ‘Heathers’, which has enjoyed greater success on stage than on film).
Okay, that’s a lot of quibbling. On the plus side, the lighting and projections – care of Jack Knowles and Mogzi – effectively conjure a sense of life amidst the bustle of New York City. There aren’t many shows which require the assistance of an intimacy director, but that’s where Robbie Taylor Hunt comes in; the sex scenes are wild and passionate, which is probably why there’s a warning on the poster. Paul Englishby’s music is another big plus.
It’s well-known that ‘Fatal Attraction’ the film had two endings: The existing was one added later, after the original scored poorly in American test screenings. Dearden has decided to go with his instincts and reinstate the first – a wise decision, and more realistic, giving this production a certain curiosity factor.
In spite of being saddled with clunky dialogue and sketchy motivation, Farnworth and Amy give it their best shot. But the third star in this review belongs entirely to Kym Marsh, who makes a supremely confident transition from TV to stage actress. There’s an intelligence to her performance which is pleasantly surprising, and makes this character’s tragic fate oddly affecting. Clearly Marsh is capable of more than pulling pints in the Rovers. Who knew? It would be great to see such instinctive ability tested in a more layered, challenging piece of work. Kym Marsh does Chekhov? It’s less ridiculous than you might imagine.
Fatal Attraction is at The Opera House, Manchester from 22-26 February 2022.