First Night: Fool For Love, Apollo Theatre, London

Juliette Lewis fails to come to life in Shephard's study of a fatal attraction
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The Independent Culture

Eddie, the stuntman, can put a precise figure on it. He has travelled two thousand four hundred and eighty miles to find May, his on-and-off love for 15 years, in this seedy motel room on the edge of the Mojave Desert.

But May has reason to be suspicious, having lost count of the number of times he's suckered her into some fantasy of a life together only to leave her yet again. Besides, her new date is on his way and she wants to make a fresh start. Just how badly would you rate her chances?

Sam Shepard's 1983 play, Fool for Love, is a savagely funny and disturbing study of the kind of fatal attraction that veers between devouring need and touchy, furious rejection. It also contains one of the author's many extrapolated versions of his own Pop, an unpredictable alcoholic given to abrupt vanishing acts and sudden reappearances.

Gradually revealed to be a posthumous presence, the Old Man sitting in the corner is the father who, because he vacillated between two entirely separate families, Eddie and May did not know they shared until they'd already started fooling around at high school.

The previous high-profile London productions of the piece have tended to field home-grown actors. With the American film star and rock chick Juliette Lewis and the New Zealander movie hunk Martin Henderson in the leading roles, Lindsay Posner's revival sets out to show the benefits of using performers unrestrained by our native inhibitions about front-foot physicality.

You would certainly have thought that Lewis, with her gift for suggesting the dysfunctional and the dangerous, would be ideal casting. But while she absolutely looks the part (think fallen, black-haired doll) she too often sounds (in this, her professional stage debut) as though she is reciting learned lines rather than fully inhabiting the role.

Henderson makes a strong and exciting impression as Eddie - virile, volatile, endearingly ridiculous as he tries to work off jealousy of male competition with demonstrations of his Marlboro man skill at lassoing the bedposts, and moving as an ersatz cowboy on the run from his own sensitivity.

May has a great speech where she tells Eddie that "I can smell your thoughts before you even think 'em". Missing in this revival, though, is that sense of frantic psychological claustrophobia which is the flip-side of the peace that comes from finding a complete soul-mate.

At some level, Eddie and May are one another. That's communicated rather one-sidedly, however, in a production that doesn't help matters by planting the pair in a set that is too big and airy to evoke the requisite pressure-cooker atmosphere of the motel room.

Larry Lamb adroitly captures the Old Man's unlovely transition from irresponsible detachment to indignant, hollow self-justification, outrageously re-defining "realism" as any fantasy you choose to sustain with sufficient resolve.

And Joe Duttine is very amusing as May's sweating, nonplussed suitor who, all too understandably, tries to escape head first through a window from this seething incestuous stand-off and Eddie's sarcastically toying intimidation.