Fatal Attraction review – stage thriller is an affair to forget

·2 min read
<span>Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian</span>
Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

Theatre Royal, Brighton
The 1987 revenge movie returns as a play, with Kym Marsh starring as a blandly monstrous ‘bunny boiler’ spurned by her married lover


Lock up your rabbits! The 1987 thriller that inspired the phrase “bunny boiler” – to describe a psychotically clingy lover – is back. Fatal Attraction exploited the terror of sexual promiscuity in the shadow of Aids, as well as the Reagan-era idealisation of the nuclear family. Cinema audiences booed the vengeful woman spurned by her married lover. Has the emphasis shifted now that gaslighting, white-male privilege and #MeToo have entered the lexicon?

The script by James Dearden, who also wrote the film, gives the errant husband Dan Gallagher (Oliver Farnworth) narrating privileges (“You think I’m crazy? You’d be right!”) but few glimmers of self-knowledge. More modulation from Farnworth would have been nice. Announcing bleakly that he once had it all, he sounds scarcely less peevish during flashbacks to happier days.

Kym Marsh as Alex, who slashes her wrists then stalks Dan and his family, exhibits restraint in not vamping it up immediately. But the play still makes her blandly monstrous; an effect worthy of Attack of the 50 Foot Woman imagines her looming over Manhattan via video screen. Telling the story from Alex’s perspective could have repurposed the material to better suit the times. There isn’t much point incorporating mobile phones, feng shui and Covid fist bumps if the attitude still smacks of the 1980s.

John Macaulay and Oliver Farnworth in Fatal Attraction, Theatre Royal, Brighton.
‘Devilish’ … John Macaulay and Oliver Farnworth in Fatal Attraction, Theatre Royal, Brighton. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

One radical difference is the ending, which sticks to Dearden’s downbeat original draft that never made it to the film’s final cut. Other scenes narrate what can’t be shown (“Sulphuric acid! The car’s completely ruined!”) or downgrade what can. No groping in the elevator, no sex in the sink. There isn’t enough heat on stage to toast a bunny, let alone boil one.

John Macaulay as Dan’s pal Jimmy has one devilish scene. After Alex reveals she is pregnant, he offers his friend a cheerful take worthy of Seinfeld’s George Costanza: “It’s early days. She could lose the baby!” Everything is eclipsed, though, by the death of Bugs. On screen, we saw only the shocking aftermath. On stage, Alex hoists the pot on to the stove, cranks up the gas, then strolls away with a wicked smile. It’s such a leisurely enterprise that it seems churlish not to add seasoning.

  • Fatal Attraction is at the Theatre Royal, Brighton, until 22 January then touring.

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