Theatre Review

Fatal Attraction lacks flame or frisson

By Lesley Stones 18 April 2018

The Fatal Attraction script fails to give the characters the robustness that this passionate tale demands. Tension only takes hold in a couple of scenes, making Fatal Attraction more a shallow morality tale than the psychological thriller it started life as.

Not many movies have created a phrase that falls into our daily lexicon. Fatal Attraction did it though, with the term “bunny boiler” used to describe a woman who acts vengefully after having been spurned by her lover.

That should create a few fireworks on stage, you think, as you settle into your seat for the staged version of the 1987 movie. Especially since the script was written by James Dearden, who wrote the original screenplay.

The storyline is theoretically excellent – happily married Dan lets himself get led astray by an attractive woman, Alex. But when he curtails it, she won’t allow him to cast her aside. Her unhinged personality is fuelled by rejection and her desire for him mutates into the desire for revenge. And you know it’s going to end badly for the bunny.

Dearden used the opportunity to rewrite the ending as he never liked how he was forced to turn Alex into a mad harridan to please the Hollywood audience, so he’s made her a more sympathetic character who is sad and lonely rather than mad and evil.

The play was slated in London, and this reworking is a bold attempt to breathe fresh life into it. Yet I found the clinical stylishness introduced by director Paula Bangles eroded the intimacy between the characters and left me disappointedly detached too.

Often the actors address the audience rather than each other, which feels false and dilutes the rapport that’s crucial for pulling off a story that’s entirely dependent on strong emotional connections.

Ashley Dowds is smooth as Dan, but charm is his default mode in a role that might fare better if his mildness faded sooner. Alex Tops is lovely as Dan’s recently divorced pal Jimmy, making the most of single life with hot new dates and even hotter dance moves and he brings his scenes to life.

Jazzara Jaslyn delivers the “damaged” part of Alex particular well, with some unhinged, frantic elements creating a brooding sense that something bad is about to happen.

The sex scenes are handled delicately and work well, yet there’s little chemistry between Dowds and Jaslyn, nor between Dowds and Jenny Stead as his wife Beth. Stead is nicely sweet and homely and yeah, you can see why some illicit temptation might be welcome.

As the play unfolds you can let your mind wander and weigh up the plot as it could relate to your own life. When would you ‘fess up? When the “weekend special” brazenly arrives to view the flat you share with your wife? When she trashes your car? Are we genetically programmed to cheat, especially at those moments where everything is going well and a self-destructive desire erupts to shake things up again?

Overall, the script doesn’t give the characters the robustness that this passionate tale demands. Tension only takes hold in a couple of scenes, making Fatal Attraction more a shallow morality tale than the psychological thriller it started life as.

Partly that’s because the stage looks like someone forgot to roll on the scenery. A dais in the centre is surrounded by a slatted background that the actors pace behind, so you can see them during their frequent phone calls to each other. The minimalistic set by Marjolein Ettema allows the actors to be anywhere the action chooses to place them, and avoids constant set changes as the play trots out numerous short scenes in different sites.

The audience is required to fill in the gaps with their imagination – or focus on the action without any distractive periphery, perhaps. But the stark presentation also demands that the space be filled with crackling tension, sexual frisson or blazing emotion, and those flames rarely come.

The lighting and sound effects highlight the drama, but it’s striving for a level of intensity it never reaches.

This memorable movie hasn’t translated into a great stage show. DM

Fatal Attraction runs at Montecasino Theatre until 6 May. Tickets from Computicket

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