James Dearden’s stage version of his own 1987 blockbuster movie arrives at the Theatre Royal Haymarket directed by Trevor Nunn and those who asked “why?” when the idea was first mooted will find no answer to their question in this slick but rather shallow, uninvolving production.
For those who don’t know, it’s the story of successful New York lawyer Dan Gallagher, who amuses himself with a little extra-marital recreation with single career girl Alex Forrest when his wife and daughter are out of town. Dan regards the whole event as a passing fling, but Alex wants more, refuses to be used and turns Dan’s life into a living nightmare when she morphs into the stalker from hell.
The film caused something of a stir on its release at the height of the Aids scare. It sparked debates about infidelity and women refusing to be the passive partner in relationships. All this furore was enough to get it on the cover of magazines such as Time and Newsweek, with the resultant publicity doing no harm to its box office at all, thank you very much. It made a fortune.
So why a stage version? In the programme notes Dearden says this is the ending he wrote before studio bosses ordered rewrites and gives him the opportunity to tell the story he wanted to. However, if you’ve seen the film, the majority of what you’ll remember is up there on the stage, making play/film comparisons inevitable. There is also something of an attempt to draw the character of Alex more sympathetically, but therein lays the problem rather than giving the work an added dimension.
What gave the film its momentum was the tension resulting from Alex’s actions, with audiences either wondering what this psycho bitch was going to do next or prompting a feeling of “you go girl” as philanderer Dan got his comeuppance. But either because of familiarity with the plot or the slight dilution of Alex’s character, the edge of your seat tension that propelled the film is all but lost on stage.
And it has to be said that for all her talents, Natascha McElhone as Alex is no Glenn Close, who played the role in the film. In the movie you believed that this woman was becoming more steadily unhinged and that in the end she was capable of anything. Here on stage, her descent into madness is far less believable. Any sense of real menace is gone.
Mark Bazeley does a decent enough job in the role of Dan, but again he’s no Michael Douglas, who played the part on screen. Kristen Davis makes her West End debut in the role of Beth, Dan’s wife, and does well in a part that gives her little to play with.
Robert Jones’ clever panelled sets give the whole thing an expensive feel befitting affluent Manhattanites, but ultimately only adds to the feeling of style over substance.
If you’re one of those people who’ve never seen the film, then this stage production is an entertaining couple of hours, but judging by the murmurs that went around the theatre when anything significant was about to happen, you’re in the minority, so one has to ask again; what was the point?
Reviewed by Tony Peters
Written by James Dearden
Directed by Trevor Nunn
Alex Forrest Natascha McElhone
Dan Gallagher Mark Bazeley
Beth Gallagher Kristen Davis
Joan Jane How
Jimmy Alex Lowe