When Fatal Attraction opened in cinemas in 1987 it captivated and terrified filmgoers, garnered multiple Oscar nominations and became that year’s biggest global hit, raking in more than $320 million against a $14 million budget.
More than three decades later the chilling and provocative tale of an extra-marital affair gone horribly wrong is coming to the stage for the first-time ever, with director Loveday Ingram promising: “Audiences will go away having had an invigorating, stimulating evening that shocks and surprises as well as making them question choices they have made in the past or could make in the future. It’s gripping and thrilling and it’s a real emotional rollercoaster.”
With Kym Marsh and Oliver Farnworth heading the cast, the play remains true to the core story of New York lawyer, Dan Gallagher whose fling with book editor, Alex Forrest starts out casual but soon escalates into a reign of terror when she refuses to accept it’s over.
But there are surprises in store for fans of the film who think they know all the twists and turns. “It isn’t exactly the same as the film,” the director teases, “and the outcome resolves in a different way.”
Ingram (who has worked extensively in the West End and around the UK) also believes Alex’s behaviour will be viewed differently now than it was in the 80s. “Our attitudes towards mental health have changed so much since 1987, as they have towards emotional support. It’s inevitable that people will look at the character of Alex in a different light.”
Writer James Dearden penned the Oscar-nominated screenplay (which was in turn based on his 1980 short film Diversion) and the movie also scored Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Director for Adrian Lyne, Best Actress for Glenn Close, Best Supporting Actress for Anne Archer and Best Editing, with Michael Douglas omitted from the list but winning that year’s Academy Award for Best Actor in Wall Street.
It inspired other psychosexual thrillers like the hugely successful Basic Instinct and the critically-panned Sliver, but Fatal Attraction remains the genre’s most enduring classic, with Loveday noting: “The play, like the film, asks questions, challenges, surprises and shocks, and if we get it right every person in the audience will be going ‘Oh my God, that could happen to me if I made the wrong choice at the wrong time’.”
With Dearden also adapting the film for the stage, Fatal Attraction is the latest edge-of-the-seat thriller from Smith and Brant Theatricals and Ambassador Theatre Group Productions after their acclaimed tours of Gaslight and Strangers on a Train.
“And James’s adaptation is stunning,” the director enthuses. “It’s slick and engaging. The dialogue is electrifying and bites to the core of the story. He’s taken the heart of the film, stripped it back and put it on stage to great effect.”
Set in the present day, the stage version features contemporary technology like mobile phones with projections of video calls. “One of the things that drew me to it is that it’s about consent and people stepping into the danger zone,” Loveday says. “It’s about responsibility and trust and crossing the line. To bring that to life in a way that works for contemporary audiences, we’ve shifted it more towards the technology that we all use to communicate every day. Stalking and social media intrusion are all part of that.”
Do we still get the infamous bunny boiling scene? She laughs. “Now that would be giving it away, wouldn’t it?”
Kym Marsh, who came to fame in the pop band Hear’Say before doing a 14-year stint as Michelle Connor on Coronation Street, is relishing the chance to explore Alex Forrest through a contemporary lens.
“She’s quite a complex character and playing her in this day and age is more interesting, I think,” says the Merseyside-born performer. “I’ve read a lot of articles that Glenn Close did about the character of Alex and even then, back in the 80s, she was thinking that there’s more to Alex, she’s not just this psychotic woman. She’s got real issues and you can tell that she’s gone through something awful in her life. For me it’s interesting to dig around in that and look at the vulnerabilities in her.”
Marsh agrees Alex’s behaviour would be viewed very differently now. “I think there’d be another conversation around it for sure. We’ve come a long way in terms of how we view mental health since then.”
Is she daunted about following in Glenn Close’s shoes? “Well, no-one can fill those shoes, can they? All I can do is my best with it and not copy her, but the script of the play is slightly different. It’s not exactly the same, it’s not scene-by-scene and word-for-word. There are subtle differences and you hear more from Alex about where she’s been. It’s hard to talk about without giving too much away but you get more of a sense of who Alex is and what her journey may have been.”
Kym left Coronation Street in 2019 and has since juggled stage work with presenting such BBC shows as Morning Live and For Love Or Money. She hasn’t toured since playing Jovie in Elf The Musical in 2019 and says: “I’m excited about getting back out there and testing myself in front of a live audience. I’ve no doubt I’ll be nervous when I first go out on that stage but I’m hoping those nerves will dissipate.”
Starring opposite her as Dan Gallagher is Oliver Farnworth, whose last tour (The Girl on the Train) was also in 2019. Hailing from Halifax, Oliver has been in Hollyoaks and Coronation Street as well as working extensively in theatre in such shows as Beautiful Thing, Merchant of Venice and Under Milk Wood and he sees being back on tour as “like putting on an old pair of shoes”.
Oliver views Dan as an alpha male who’s at the top of his game at work. “He’s kind of a lion who says what he means and gets what he wants but even though he presents as the wholesome American family guy he has resentments and flaws. He’s entering middle age and feels like he’s losing his youth, and his life in New York is gradually slipping away from him as he’s moving out to the suburbs. He’s not quite ready for that and he’s led astray by temptation.”
In the film Dan maybe comes across as the victim of Alex’s obsessions but, without giving spoilers, Farnworth feels the play redresses that because Alex is an independent single woman and it’s Dan who cheats on his wife and lies to cover up the affair. “And we’re looking at the potential impact of mental health, which is possibly an underlying feature of Alex’s character, and we’re looking at Dan’s flaws. It’s a more measured view.”
The inclusion of mobile phones and other technology, the actor believes, adds to the suspense. “It’s harder to remain anonymous. Everyone knows what everyone else is doing and that ramps up the tension. It leads to a lot of tense moments and adds some new twists.”
Dan’s wife Beth is played by Susie Amy, who became a household name as Chardonnay on Footballers’ Wives and who has appeared in Echo Beach and Hollyoaks on TV and Wait Until Dark and After Juliet on stage.
Just as Dan in the film might be perceived as a victim, Beth struck some cinemagoers as too good to be true. “But she’s got some bite to her,” Susie notes of Beth in the play. “She’s not overly-forgiving and she’s not a pushover. She’s very caring towards Dan and their daughter Ellen but his betrayal is a step too far. She’s a lovely mum and wife but it’s a normal marriage and it isn’t all roses all the time, even before she learns of his affair.”
Having also been in Rehearsal for Murder and Murder on the Nile, the Londoner thinks theatregoers love a good stage thriller because of the shared up-close experience. “And at the moment it’s just thrilling to go into a theatre after the last couple of years, let alone to watch something that’s such an edge-of-the-seat, thought-provoking night out. It shows how one bad decision can cause a real domino effect.”
Coincidentally Susie was last on stage at the Edinburgh Festival in 2018 in The Marilyn Conspiracy opposite Oliver Farnworth, prior to which she toured in Ray Cooney’s Out of Order. “I just love being on tour,” she says. “I love going around the UK, spending times in different cities and seeing different audience reactions, and I think people are going to be really gripped by Fatal Attraction.”
Kym Marsh agrees. “It’s a fantastic play. It’s dramatic and sexy and at times chilling. Plus it’ll be so nice to just get out there in front of a live audience.”
She smiles. “Having theatre back again is just brilliant because I think everyone has really missed it. I remember walking through the West End and seeing tape across theatre doorways, and it really made me sad. I’m absolutely delighted to be getting back on stage and getting audiences back in.”
Read our review of Fatal Attraction at The Opera House, Manchester.