FATAL ATTRACTION

★★★★

_REVIEW.   it’s about _THEATRE.   words _KYLE PEDLEY.
  at _THE ALEXANDRA.   tickets _OFFICIAL SITE.   booking until _5th MAR.

March 1, 2022

images © Tristram Kenton.

There’s little shying away from the fact that Adrian Lyne’s 1987 thriller, Fatal Attraction, was both a film decidedly of its time, and yet also one that pricked something in the cultural consciousness, in how strongly and immediately it resonated with audiences of the era. Heck, it’s quite literally where the now ubiquitous term ‘bunny boiler’ somewhat reductively comes from.

But even Glenn Close’s seminal, Oscar-nominated turn as unhinged obsessive Alex Forrest, whilst forever etched in cinema’s hall of infamy, is now looked upon as something almost approaching camp by contemporary standards. It remains a bravura, captivating turn for sure, but, like much of the film around it, ‘nuanced’ hardly seems a fitting label. That goes extra for the hastily rewritten and re-shot ending, which cowered to early audience screenings yearning for a more bombastic and bloodthirsty close (pun intended).

Fast-forward thirty five years, and with the progression of time, so too has women’s representation both on screen and stage marched on. In the post-‘me too’ era, it simply doesn’t fly to handle issues of sex, love, pregnancy and the like with the glibness of simply reducing Forrest to a slasher-level villain, and whilst there are still the odd moments where this new stage take on Fatal Attraction jars or momentarily ebbs (or, in the case of a late-game hospital visit, is even unintentionally hilarious courtesy of a pair of sunglasses) , on the whole it makes for a fascinating, occasionally intoxicating foray into passion, lust, obsession and the dangerous, nebulous line blurring all three.

This is in no small part thanks to the reintroduction of James Dearden’s (returning for writing duties) original intend ending. To get specific would obviously spoil the morbid fun, but needless to say it’s a decidedly less showy denouement than the film offers, and one that carries the through-line of its characters being decidedly more complicated and grey than Hollywood ended up opting for.

For those unfamiliar, this new production for the most part follows the main beats and plot points of the movie. Successful lawyer Dan (Coronation Street & Mr. Selfridge’s Oliver Farnworth) heads out on the town with a colleague (John Macaulay) when his wife (Susie Amy – who is about to switch roles and take on Alex when Marsh departs) and daughter are away viewing property and visiting the in-laws. Whilst not pre-meditated, a ‘while the cat’s away’ mentality soon creeps in when he finds himself attracted to fellow stranger-in-a-bar, Alex (Kym Marsh). A night turns into a weekend of passions, only for Dan to realise a little too late that he’s opened a Pandora’s Box of obsession and pain, and the troubled, hurting Alex soon becomes a terrifyingly persistent presence in his life, both personal and professional.

A Star (and Bunny Boiler!) is Born: Kym Marsh – and soon to be Susie Amy – step into the iconic shoes of Glenn Close, who was not only Oscar nominated for playing the role of Alex in the 1987 thriller, but to this day still owns the prop knife she used on set – which she has framed and hanging in her kitchen!

It’s easy – thanks, again, to Close’s wonderfully batshit crazy turn, and that blood-soaked finale, to bypass so much of the moral ambiguities and trauma that shape much of the central conflict in Fatal Attraction, so it’s good to see not only so much of it return here, but also put in the hands of a cast who do great work with it. Yes, there’s plenty to schadenfreuden-ly enjoy and curl your toes at when the relentless Alex turns up at Dan’s office, and the audible gasps as her intrusions become ever closer to home showed an audience fully engaged in the drama, but Marsh, Farnworth and director Loveday Ingram do a great job in at least attempting to balance out the equation somewhat. So much so, if you allow yourself not to be coloured by expectations and what has come before, you’ll likely spend much of Attraction’s two hours bandying between who to feel sorry for, and who to hate.

Hint: it’ll likely change from scene to scene.

There’s glimpses of empowerment to be found in Alex refusing to be tossed aside post-coitus, and she’s not shy of throwing some home truths Dan’s way in regards to his sexual conquest and subsequent dismissal of her. But then so too is there sympathy and sincerity in the toxic, deepening cycle of despair and dishonesty he finds himself sinking deeper into.

A Star (and Bunny Boiler!) is Born: Kym Marsh – and soon to be Susie Amy – step into the iconic shoes of Glenn Close, who was not only Oscar nominated for playing the role of Alex in the 1987 thriller, but to this day still owns the prop knife she used on set – which she has framed and hanging in her kitchen!

Yes, Alex is still demonstrably damaged and disturbed, but it’s at least injected with some causality. There are plenty of puncturing moments of cringe and shock, particularly come the decidedly faster-paced second Act – and yes, that scene is back, and foreshadowed early on – but in truth the more involving moments here are, perhaps unsurprisingly, the direct power plays, tugs of war and emotional tussles between its two leads. That all of the ambiguity and murky moral waters between them is not completely undone by a trashy bloodbath finale serves to only enrich this (not that the show is, by any means, a bloodless affair…).

“Marsh… whilst suitably vampy and seductive where required, is even stronger in the moments of vulnerability.”

It helps, too, that Marsh and Farnworth navigate their characters with clout and sincerity. From Farnworth’s almost boyish exuberance and naiveté as he peacocks about in a bar cooing over past anecdotes, through to the terrified, distraught husk he becomes as Alex’s madness intensifies, it’s a gripping turn, one baked in impulse, regret and exasperation. Marsh (catch her whilst you can, this is her final venue on the tour), meanwhile, is equally strong in a performance that, whilst suitably vampy and seductive where required, is even stronger in the moments of vulnerability. She pulls of a tricky balancing act; Alex’s most raw and desperate moments never feel forced or an act, and that we believe the trauma and anguish she brings to the stage only serves again to make the character dimensional and interesting as a result.

Occasionally the exaggerated, performative nature of being on stage means some of the physical confrontations in particular are writ a little OTT, but again this is mainly a by-product of the medium, and it has to be said that, despite this, the whole thing manages to feel at once both intimate whilst not lacking scope, either, thanks in no small part to some solid lighting and video design, which complement the verticality of Morgan Large’s set. Text messages and video calls frequently pop up on the backdrop, disembodied voices echo ominously around the auditorium in moments of panic and confusion, whilst flurries of headlights and road signs fly by in video form during a particularly kinetic ‘action’ sequence. Whilst all of this could (perhaps justifiably) be argued as needless style over substance, it all gels with the rhythmic direction and strong performances to keep Attraction ticking along at a punchy pace.

On paper, shows like Fatal Attraction come round aplenty. Cautionary tales pondering the woes of love, lust, infidelity and doomed dalliances. Many end up dry or self-important dips into melodrama. Attraction, perhaps ironically, manages to both jetty the Hollywoodising of its script, whilst also formulating this more interesting take into a theatre-going experience that actually manages to feel in places rather cinematic nevertheless. It’s an engrossing look into the throngs of passion and obsession that many will be able to relate to, and there’s something quite universally gripping – even in a soapy sort of way – to watching an unfaithful person dodging the big revelation and discovery.

With solid performances, taut direction that retains focus whilst also showing off some slick flashiness in its audiovisual design, and a willingness to both say a lot whilst also never coming down too judgementally on either side of the coin, Fatal Attraction is an absorbing, sexy, cautionary and occasionally chilling evening of theatre. Go in expecting high-octane, balls-to-the-walls adrenaline or eroticism and you’ll likely walk away disappointed, but as mostly a twofer power play, it impacts not in moments of screeching excesses or hysterics (which some may, in fairness, go in expecting), but in quieter beats of dark contemplation. Either way, however fatal it may prove to be, there’s certainly plenty here to be attracted to.

Those expecting the pulpy thrills and histrionics of the film will likely walk away lukewarm, but it’s in the confident, murky greyness of its central clash where this new Attraction gets its real allure.

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