Theatre review: Fatal Attraction at the Theatre Royal Haymarket

It’s not often that a writer unhappy with the ending of his film gets to change it 28 years later.

With his iconic blockbuster Fatal Attraction playing at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, James Dearden shifts the script’s focus from being a thriller with a psychotic female lead to give more emphasis to the culpability of both parties involved in the toxic two-night affair. It’s an intriguing selling point but the writing is not illuminating: a laboured voice-over and overstated dialogue fill the gaps where the film’s lingering camera shots and enigmatic silences worked to more impressive effect.

As Dan Gallagher, charismatic Mark Bazeley powers the play: empathetic but elusive, riven by guilt yet quicksilver in his self-deceptions. “I never make moral judgments,” Dan blithely comments to his friend Jimmy (Alex Lowe) before his world implodes, then later justifies his own affair as “a minor indiscretion”. But this is a morally compromised universe where men are weak and women struggle to take sex lightly. Updated to the present, director Trevor Nunn uses a fierce backdrop of sound and light with fluorescent screens that forge barriers or outline the stage like a pulsating heartbeat accompanied by intrusive urban noise.

And what of the infamous “bunny boiler”? As high-flying editor Alex Forrest, Natascha McElhone is composed and immaculately groomed, playing Alex as a fantasist whose warped emotions are artfully concealed until the madness takes hold. As the narrative unfolds, her loneliness hits home. But more sympathy for Alex means less dramatic jeopardy. Nunn makes a big feature of Alex’s love of Madame Butterfly to inject pathos. In one scene, we watch McElhone listening to Butterfly, her detailed expressions encapsulating moments in a doomed relationship from doubt to joy to grief. Unfortunately, no such subtlety is in evidence in the deafening finale despite the neat plot twist. Kristin Davis has little to work on as wife Beth Gallagher’s role is underwritten but she’s credibly steely when necessary. This is not sophisticated theatrical story telling but the stars shine.

***


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