Listen to this article
As $70m-grossing movies about happily married lawyers committing adultery go, it was never exactly great – histrionic, sexist, calculating. Apart from the thousand things that made it great. The down-and-dirty, pre-Giuliani, 1980s New York; the little daughter, brown hair shorn like Joan of Arc, gasping with delight at her soon-to-be boiled rabbit; Michael Douglas before he got his teeth fixed. And Glenn Close, of course, playing publisher and femme fatale Alex Forrest, a woman as insane as her hair, and so dangerous even her cigarette looks like it’s trying to get away from her. If nothing else, the movie is savage.
Trevor Nunn’s stage production has a promising hint of Sunset Boulevard in the way our unwise hero, Dan Gallagher (Mark Bazeley) delivers several bitter voice-overs between scenes, front of stage in his smart suit, telling us things it turns out don’t remotely need articulating (“I had a perfect life!”). And yet as he ploddingly meets and sleeps with Alex (at any suggestion of sex, screens close or lights are dimmed) and proceeds to shield his unsuspicious wife (Kristin Davis on particularly vacant form) from Alex’s increasingly violent obsession with him, the action is staggeringly polite.
Natascha McElhone’s Alex, on page a character not just rattled and dishonest but desperately yearning, tries to detonate the melodrama with her lovely, warm, rational eyes. But why run from the lunacy in the story, the nightmarish, scumbag heat? There is a shrinking from something here – the central “problem” that the whole story just might be sexist. It seems there is an actual rule of physics that such a question needs to be asked with regard to Fatal Attraction, and the answer is – who the hell cares?
James Dearden, who adapted the play from his original screenplay (he got full screenwriting credit, although Nicholas Meyer worked on it too) has long talked about preferring his original, less “dramatic”, more film-noirish ending, which is premiered on stage here in all its …quiet, shoulder-shrugging nothingness. Glenn Close might have objected to the way Alex was rendered so blatantly nuts on screen in those final moments, but who could forget her eyes rolled-over white in the bath as a grim-lipped Anne Archer gave her a bullet in the chest?