The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Tuesday 1st March 2022
Adrian Lyne’s hit film from 1987 is brought to the stage by screenwriter James Deardon, updating the setting to include mobile phones and emails, but basically staying true to the story. The film gave us the term ‘bunny boiler’ to denote an obsessive ex – the merest mention of the rabbit elicits titters of delighted expectation…
In the role of the ‘temptress’ Alex Forrest is Kym Marsh who is, pure and simple, excellent. Marsh brings vulnerability and fragility to Alex’s extreme behaviour. Society has moved on (a little bit) since the film and we tend to be more compassionate toward mental illness and to look more favourably at independent women who work, rather than seeing them as the 80s threat to men’s roles.
It’s easy to regard the protagonist Dan Gallagher as the villain of the piece. He is easily tempted off the straight and narrow while his wife is away for the weekend. Oliver Farnworth has the unenviable task of keeping us engaged with Dan’s tribulations. There is a lot of ‘serves him right’ going on here. Farnworth hardly ever leaves the stage and is our narrator, so we get to hear how Dan justifies his actions to himself, even if we’re not buying it. As a leading man, Farnworth navigates murky waters – the play throws up moral questions on all sides – and he shows us why Alex would be attracted to Dan, the good looks, the charm, even though we don’t agree with his choices.
As wronged wife Beth, Susie Amy shows fire and righteous fury. I understand she is soon to take over the role of Alex; it’s easy to imagine her as an excellent fit for the part. John Macaulay brings humour as Dan’s friend Jimmy, and there is strong support from Anita Booth as mother-in-law Joan.
In the second act, the action comes to the boil – like a rabbit in a pot of water – and the sound and video designs become more expressionistic. Loveday Ingram’s direction maintains tension levels, even when we know what’s coming. Dearden reverts to an early draft of the screenplay to restore his original ending, which capitalises on Alex’s love of Madam Butterfly. This is thematically satisfying but denies Beth the chance to stand up and fight for her family unit.
This is a stylish and classy adaptation of the well-loved film. I’m so glad it isn’t a musical!