Review: Fatal Attraction. Nottingham Theatre Royal. (touring)

Fatal Attraction

Adapted by James Dearden

Directed by Loveday Ingram

Nottingham Theatre Royal – Touring

Tuesday 15th – Saturday 19th February 2022

A cultural phenomenon, Fatal Attraction brought audiences flocking to cinemas to see Glenn Close’s thrilling, yet disturbing performance as ‘the woman scorned.’ It swiftly became the highest-grossing film of 1987 worldwide but was not without controversy. Who can forget that iconic scene involving the rabbit and the stove? The film’s success inspired a slew of psychosexual thrillers, including Basic Instinct, but many would still argue that Fatal Attraction is the original and the best.

New York attorney, Dan Gallagher (Oliver Farnworth) embarks on a ‘brief fling’ with Alex Forrest (Kym Marsh) whilst his wife Beth (Susie Amy) is out of town. For Dan, it is just a weekend affair, but Alex has other ideas. She is not prepared to give him up that easily, which leads to an increasingly tense and hostile series of encounters.

The average age of the audience in the theatre tonight leads to the conclusion that most will have seen the film or at least know its plot. For this reviewer, the film is analogous to a main character. It looms large over every scene, and I find myself constantly comparing the two. What is interesting is how much society has changed in the past thirty-five years. In the film, our sympathies lie firmly with Dan, Beth, and their family unit. In 2022 we are much more aware of mental health, issues of consent, and coercive control. Refracted through this lens, Fatal Attraction, the play, becomes a much more interesting proposition.

Glenn Close turned in a powerhouse performance in the film; a Sisyphean task for any actor to attempt to replicate. Fortunately, Marsh makes Alex her own. When she and Dan first meet in ‘the hot new bar’ in town, it is easy to see why Dan would be tempted to stray. She appears to be a strong, independent, and sensual woman. By her own admission, she is ‘determined.’ When Dan questions her if she always gets what she wants, her answer is that she does ‘most of the time.’ As the pulsing soundscape builds, Dan makes a choice that will indelibly affect everyone in the play.

The set design (Morgan Large) is intriguing. Grey panels of various shapes and sizes are used as doors, or screens for video projections (projection designer Mogzi Bromley – Morgans) and even a gantry level on which characters can perform, giving a welcome height to the stage. Sound (Carolyn Downing), Lighting (Jack Knowles), and Music (Paul Englishby) coalesce effectively to foreshadow, build suspense or to enhance climactic moments. The play has also been updated to reflect our increasingly digital world. Dan communicates via FaceTime (or its equivalent), voice notes and emails, WhatsApp and Skype are namechecked. This modernises the play making it feel more topical and less of a period piece.

Farnworth is convincing as the corporate businessman seeing his careful construct being undermined. We have far less sympathy for him than in the film, which is how it should be. Troy Glasgow shines as Detective O’Rourke, in terms of his voice, facial expressions and gestures on stage. In contrast, Beth as a character (tonight played by Emma Laird Craig) feels somewhat underpowered. Her character is, of course, in direct contrast to Alex, but at times feels like a cipher, her movements staged and somewhat static. It is difficult to say whether this is a deliberate directorial choice or not. Furthermore, I can understand the decision to have the couple’s daughter Ellen appear in voice only, but it makes her seem less real and consequently, Dan’s ‘perfect’ nuclear family is much less convincing. The jeopardy over just what he stands to lose is therefore lessened.

Ultimately, this is play about trust, loyalty, and accountability. Dan frequently fails to take ownership of his decisions and what has led him to an extra-marital affair. ‘You knew the rules,’ he tells Alex. Which begs the question of who exactly makes the rules, and how do those rules warrant change? As Alex increasingly encroaches on Dan’s domestic life, we hear him make excuses for his own choices, even claiming that fate was waiting to get him. A satisfying dénouement offers support to Beth’s counterclaim that ‘Actions have consequences.’

Fatal Attraction offers a satisfying slice of neo-noir and will certainly prompt discussion about gender roles, sexual politics, and mental health. In many ways, this makes it more relevant than ever.

Running Time – 2 hours 20 minutes (including interval)

Please be warned that the production features adult language, violence, partial nudity, and scenes of self-harm.

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