First, the good news. Even though it’s yet another stage show based on an 80s hit film, Adrian Lyne’s glossy and controversial 1987 tale of an extra-marital affair gone horribly wrong hasn’t been inexplicably transformed into a musical (although I can see the attractions of some sort of ‘bunny boiler’ singalong). What’s more, the writer James Dearden has taken the opportunity to reinstate a version of his original ending, notoriously reshot after preview audiences insisted on the more gung-ho finish which he scathingly dismisses as a ‘Monster-from-the-Deep’ denouement.
These days, tellingly, Dearden prefers to describe Fatal Attraction as “a cautionary tale”, pointedly avoiding the spurious and offensive ‘psychological thriller with sex and shootings’ narrative that dominated the acres of newsprint the film generated more than 30 years ago.
But there’s a lot more bad news to impart about this lacklustre, leadenly acted, and painfully self-conscious production. With the exception of that ending (and a risible ‘has it all been a nightmare?’ coda), Dearden and director Loveday Ingram have pretty much stuck to the original story, but lost a lot of the bells, whistles, shocks and sex in favour of more self-serving breast-beating from the ghastly Dan Gallagher (Oliver Farnworth in the Michael Douglas role), self-harm from Alex Forrest (the Glenn Close part, here brought to the world to indifferent effect by former Hear’Say singer turned soap star Kym Marsh), and simpering from Dan’s mistreated missus Beth (Susie Amy in the Anne Archer role).
None of this helps to raise the production above the pedestrian or to stimulate the audience to any great effect, although, to be fair, there was a tangible frisson at the first mention of the luckless bunny and again at its grisly demise. But it’s a strange production where the fate of a pet rabbit could be the most engaging thing about it. There is also a recognition in the production that audiences in 2022 are likely to be more sympathetic to the Alex character than they might have been in 1987.
“Our attitudes towards mental health have changed so much since then, as they have towards emotional support. It’s inevitable that people will look at the character of Alex in a different light,” says Ingram in the programme, while acknowledging the impact of changes in technology. 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 claims of the story of New York lawyer Gallagher whose fling with book editor Forrest starts out as a casual, careless weekend ‘bit on the side’ but soon escalates into a reign of terror as Forrest’s tortured past begins to emerge and affect Gallagher’s privileged world. “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,” says Ingram.
When Fatal Attraction opened in cinemas in 1987 it became that year’s biggest global hit, raking in more than $320 million against a $14 million budget. At this remove, it’s hard to imagine how that ever happened and, despite all its smug and heavy-handed references to Madame Butterfly, this production doesn’t help make it any more believable. Nor it is able to stand on its own feet as either a psychological thriller or a cautionary tale.
Images by © Tristram Kenton
Fatal Attraction is at the Opera House in Manchester until February 26, 2022. For more information, click here.