Fatal Attraction (Theatre Royal Haymarket)

Trevor Nunn directs an adaptation of the 1980s ‘bunny boiler’ classic

Kristin Davis (Beth Gallagher), Holly Barrett (Ellen Gallagher) and Mark Bazeley (Dan Gallagher) in Fatal Attraction
Kristin Davis (Beth Gallagher), Holly Barrett (Ellen Gallagher) and Mark Bazeley (Dan Gallagher)
© Tristram Kenton

Oh dear. If there was any good news about this clunky stage version of a classic 1987 movie thriller I’d start with it. So would the show itself. Instead, Trevor Nunn‘s dire production opens with a flash forward to Mark Bazeley as the adulterous Dan Gallagher speaking in over-miked sibilance (to beat the crass sound effects) before decamping to the latest hot new city bar… where his best chum, who took him there, is wearing a sports shirt.

Extras wander around like drama students playing musical chairs. Doors on Robert Jones’ blue neon lit set swing open at wrong moments. The white bunny is boiled while the real one ("Aaaahhh," my least favourite sound in a theatre) is still in a downstage cage. Natascha McElhone as Alex Forrest, the borderline psychotic who’s tragically clawing at Dan as a lifeline partner, meets him in Central Park with blood red hands from the previous wrist-cutting scene, like Lady Macbeth in a power suit.

Screenwriter James Dearden says that this is the version – pumping up the corny Madame Butterfly analogy (any chance of a shower of red petals at the end? You betcha), and skipping that Happy Family photo – he wanted all along. But the powerful drive in the film and Michael Douglas’ performance is an overwhelming sense of imminent loss of everything he values as the situation accumulates threats, spookiness and danger.

In contrast, the Haymarket stage echoes with drabness, the sound of wet hiss when you unscrew a bottle of fizzy water. Admittedly Dan grabs Alex’s right buttock when she comes on to him after their impromptu dinner, but it’s a sad reminder of the bestial pants-down explosion on the kitchen sink in Adrian Lyne’s great movie.

You’d have thought that a man of Nunn’s creative genius would appreciate the different rhythms and needs of stage and screen. But he just follows the screenplay, too closely, staging that great abduction to the fairground scene as yet another sound effect, ditto the car crash that leaves pert and pretty Sex and the City actress Kristin Davis slumped sadly in a wheelchair like Gerard Depardieu in Cyrano. And the final, unearned Ninagawa tableau is pictorially superfluous anyway. We already have the information.

The three leads are cast to look like their cinematic forebears, which is asking for trouble, especially when one of them was Glenn Close at the peak of her powers. Instead of heart-wrenching desperation we get a lot of shouting and a few weak amendments to Dan’s perfectly reasonable caveats; if every "harmless" indiscretion ruined a marriage, it would be the end of civilisation as we know it.

The raw nerve of the movie plays on this guilt trap in the audience, and the knife twists when Alex turns up as the prospective buyer of the family apartment as they move upstate to the country – where Jane How features nicely as Dan’s querulous mother-in-law – or she reveals her (phantom?) pregnancy in the Lady M scene.

Dan’s sense of being morally hoodwinked – he selfishly sees himself engulfed by hate or fear "from this moment" – comes across as merely mean and trivial in the play. Why? Because there’s nothing interesting or sympathetic about these characters who inhabit some under-imagined theatrical limbo instead of the blood and guts of an everyday city life with all its pressures, social and career-wise, that should make Alex such a recognisably pathetic victim.