Entertainment

03.25.14

Return of the Bunny Boiler: Fatal Attraction’s World Stage Premiere

In 1987, Fatal Attraction had cinema audiences screaming, “Kill the bitch,” as Glenn Close terrorized Michael Douglas and family. The stage version, which just had its world premiere in London, features a more complex villain and the darker ending its creator wanted. SPOILER ALERT!

It’s taken more than a quarter of a century but Alex Forrest, the unhinged villainess in Fatal Attraction, has finally got her revenge.

You may recall the melodramatic home invasion sequence at the end of the film; Alex, played by Glenn Close, is shot dead and, despite the husband’s infidelity, the Gallagher family lives if not totally-happily-ever-after, then at least intact. That Hollywood ending was a re-shoot, tacked on to the end of a brilliant psychological thriller by nervous studio executives.

For the real end to the story we must turn to the stage. Twenty seven years after the movie was released, the original scriptwriter has restored the drama’s shocking finale in London’s West End. The show’s world premiere tonight ended with the ultimate fulfillment of Forrest’s obsession with Madame Butterfly, and Dan Gallagher, the Michael Douglas character, in handcuffs. A spokeswoman for the show would not say if a Broadway transfer was imminent or planned—but surely it must be, as the film was so memorably set in a very eighties New York. (Recall Alex’s stark-white, industrial loft apartment?)

This rollicking play stars Natascha McElhone, a British stage actress best known in the U.S. for roles in Californication and The Truman Show, playing Alex alongside Kristin Davis, Charlotte from Sex and the City, as her Dan’s wife, Beth. Playing predominantly to an audience that knows and loves the movie, the script is full of knowing nods and winks to up-coming scenes. An early discovery of a white rabbit soft toy brings gasps from the stalls, while the appearance of a real bunny bounding across the stage is enough to elicit squeals of anticipation.

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Tristram Kenton

The pet rabbit’s demise is so well known that “bunny boiler” long ago entered the lexicon, but how many in the audience knew that the movie’s ending was dramatically dumbed down at the last minute? Close was so distraught by the alteration that she initially refused to take part in the re-shoot. After consulting psychiatrists, she argued that there was no way Alex would burst into the Gallagher’s home and try to kill Beth.

The author of the screenplay, James Dearden agreed. “I wrote it under duress and hated the ending,” he said last week. Test audiences found the original ending too morose and wanted to see Alex get blown away. “That could only really be accomplished by turning Alex Forrest into a monster who deserved her fate,” Dearden said. “It was literally the biggest horror film cliché ever.”

“There is also a sympathetic vulnerability to Alex. We are somehow still rooting for her a little as she loses control.”

Douglas, who played the unfaithful lawyer in the film, was the only one happy to compromise. “Are you making a film for the director, as an artist, or are you making a film for an audience to enjoy two hours of entertainment?” he asked at the American Film Institute.

Well, movie audiences be damned: the art has been put back in. The Madame Butterfly soundtrack, which features in the film, is turned up to an eleven setting at the Theatre Royal Haymarket; refrains from Puccini’s opera blast out as Alex, played brilliantly by McElhone, becomes infatuated with Dan after one illicit weekend. (The opera charts the tragic tale of Butterfly waiting in vain for her husband to return to her.)

There is no doubt that Alex is losing her grip on reality as she tortures Dan with endless phone calls while his colleagues or wife are nearby, but there is also a sympathetic vulnerability. We are somehow still rooting for her a little as she loses control.

Close always insisted that Alex “wasn’t just a bad person,” just as feminists decried what they saw as a ridiculously caricatured portrayal of a crazy independent, career woman. By relieving McElhone of the brash movie ending she is able to maintain her grasp on a flawed but still complex character.

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Tristram Kenton

The others also seem to have been imbued with a little extra depth. Beth, who resembles Charlotte throughout, is meek and loving but also reminds her cheating husband what she gave up to start a family with him. “We had a deal. I had good job remember, I was earning more than you at the time,” she shouts, once the affair has been disclosed.

The demons in Dan are also amplified, although Mark Bazeley (from The Bourne Ultimatum) fails to quite match the intensity of the women on stage. He spills his murderous feelings to his best friend. In what is surely a nod to Kevin Spacey, artistic director at the Old Vic theatre across town, he lists some of the ways his problems with Alex could be resolved, including a version of Spacey’s infamous murder in the second series of House of Cards: “a sudden push on the subway.”

Once Dan has confessed the affair to his wife, Alex suddenly loses her power over him. The child she is carrying is lost and she exacts a devastating revenge. Emulating Puccini’s heroine, she plunges a blade into herself amid an operatic swell. The knife she uses, left over from a previous struggle with Dan, is covered in his finger prints. Homicide detectives arrive to lead him away.

Dearden, Fatal Attraction’s creator, hopes this exhilarating stage version will save the artistic reputation of his greatest work. Just don’t get your hopes up for the bunny.