Fatal Attraction

In these days of chattering, sweetie wrapper rustling and phone fiddling audiences I seldom get the chance to use the phrase ‘you could have heard a pin drop’. But on this occasion it was perfectly true, from the moment the house lights dimmed, the packed Theatre Royal Brighton fell silent, totally engrossed in what was taking place on stage.

A quick look around before that moment and I gauged that over 50% of the audience were too young to have actually seen the film when it was first released in 1987. Back then it was the highest grossing film of the year worldwide and the content was controversial. Alex Forrester was the original bunny boiler, the woman abandoned after a two night stand who goes on a rampage of revenge. Dan Gallagher the victim of her rage, and his family suffering the fallout of his sexually driven behaviour. But was he actually a victim, in 2022 with changing realities, the me too movement and heightened awareness of predatory sexual behaviour I doubt anyone would see his character as victim.

So given societal changes Fatal Attraction is a very different beast and has gained a different relevance. The stage play is a reworking by the original writer of the screen play James Dearden and as such retains a true sense of authorship. The action has been moved forward to the present day, a fleeting reference to COVID is there, but always a flaw in the plot is the lack of reference to AIDS as the two central characters embark on two nights of intense sexual action, although that does leave open wide the chance of that unwanted pregnancy,

This new production stars two actors better know for their roles in a major TV soap and one of them for being a pop star. Casting in this way often leads to criticism, commercial opportunism, blah blah… and it has to be faced that this can be true… but not this time.

Kym Marsh is simply sensational as Alex, totally believable as the flirtatious editor, sexy, alluring and confident. She is initially powerful as she seduces Dan and lures him back to her apartment for two nights of unbridled sex. But very soon that confidence disappears as her fragile side is revealed and then manifests as anger and also self loathing and self abuse.

Oliver Farnworth is equally impressive as corporate lawyer Dan, happily married but disloyal enough to be led by what’s in his pants into this casual liaison, unaware that Alex is perhaps less focused on a no strings casual encounter. If I had any qualms about his portrayal it would be that he looks rather too young to be Gallagher the successful corporate lawyer, it’s a visual quibble and nothing to do with the way he embraces the role as regret turns into panic and despair.

The supporting company are equally strong, Susan Amy is totally believable as Beth Gallagher, John Macaulay as Dan’s friend Jimmy and Anita Booth as the mother in law Joan.

Lifting a story from screen to stage can be rife with problems, changes of location not the least of those, but here the entire production sits brilliantly in a stunning set designed by Morgan Large, a towering structure that echoes those photographs of construction workers on girders as Manhattan’s soaring skyline is created. Panels shift and superb projections by Mogzi add that much needed sense of changing place and excitement. In addition live projections illustrate the use of video calls and mobile communication. Equally impressive is the brooding soundscape that adds a cinematic element to the whole and a lighting design that is moody and exquisitely precise.

All this is brought together by director Loveday Ingram who has wrung every moment of suspense and power from both script and cast and by employing the clever conceit of paralleling elements of Madame Butterfly, Puccini’s masterpiece of sexual attraction and emotional abandonment and abuse has added real depth to the whole, a depth perhaps lacking in the original film.

If I had one further quibble it would be that with two incredibly attractive stars on the stage, required to engage in a passionate engagement, those sex scenes could have been far more erotic and intense, especially as the lighting designer’s work was so very good, no one needed to go full frontal to achieve that heightened sense of unbridled lust.

Expectations for this play were high but this is a classy piece of theatre more than worthy of a West End transfer and it shows that our superb continuous drama TV industry is capable of producing some very fine actors. Kym Marsh and Oliver Farnworth are proof of just that.

Theatre Royal Brighton

21 January

Andrew Kay

Rating: ★★★★½

Leave a Comment

Related Articles