There's no stinting on the sex and violence in Andrew Rattenbury's version of a film classic, he tells Steve Pratt.

EVERYONE who's seen the movie remembers the scene on the kitchen table where Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange made mad passionate love. And actor-turned-writer Andrew Rattenbury concedes that images from the 1981 movie of The Postman Always Rings Twice "have overtaken everything else".

Perhaps that's why he's reluctant to go into detail about how his new stage adaptation of James M Cain's novel deals with the memorable sex scene. "We have a little something up our sleeve, but it's such a raw story you have to go with that," is all he'll say of the production which premieres at West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds.

There'll be no stinting on the sex and violence, thanks to willing actors and a good fight director. "The stakes are high. You have to believe in their huge, overwhelming passion," says Rattenbury.

Although Cain's book has been filmed several times, the theatre version has been a long time coming - mainly because the rights were difficult to obtain to the story of two lovers, Cora and Frank, whose love in 1930s small town America leads to murder.

It's being brought to the stage by the team behind the staging of Tennessee Williams' Baby Doll, seen in Birmingham and London in 1999-2000. Director Lucy Bailey is reunited with actress Charlotte Emerson - who plays Cora opposite Patrick O'Kane's Frank - as well as designer Bunny Christie and composer Django Bates.

Rattenbury is the newcomer to the team, although his association with The Postman Always Rings Twice stretches back more than a decade. He'd moved from acting to writing and the success of his stage adaptation of Thomas Hardy's The Return Of The Native prompted him to look for another literary piece to dramatise.

"Someone suggested The Postman Always Rings Twice. I'd seen the film and so I read the book, which was only a short novel," he recalls. "It's a terrific piece of work. There are so many dramatic elements - it's thrilling, tragic, a love story, funny and quite gruesome. For 1934, it was very raw writing.

"There are so many elements in the book that I'd forgotten and were not in the film. It's a courtroom drama too, with brilliant twists and turns that are almost breathtaking."

He wrote an adaptation but was unable to secure the rights to the book, partly because it was difficult to find out who owned them. He and a director friend tried to mount a production for two or three years with no success.

A happy coincidence a decade later resulted in the revival of the idea. Charlotte Emmerson happened to find the script sitting on a shelf in Rattenbury's friend's flat. "She picked it up, read it, thought it was terrific and talked to Lucy Bailey about it. She loved it too and said it was a project she'd be interested in doing," he explains. "It still took another three years to get the rights, which we found were at Warner Brothers. I've tried to keep as near as I can to the beat of the novel. It moves so quickly and you have to have that pace in the play."

He has no worries about the stage adaptation being compared to the Nicholson film. "People know the title but don't necessarily know the story," he says.

This marks a return to the theatre for Rattenbury, who's been writing mainly for TV in recent years with credits on series including Casualty, Holby City, The Bill, A&E, Peak Practice and Grafters. He was also part of the creative team behind C4's Teachers.

Rattenbury is currently writing the second series of comedy Absolute Power, starring Stephen Fry, and for the return of ITV's crime drama MIT (Murder Investigation Team), due to be shown in the autumn.

"The Postman Always Rings Twice is returning to the theatre, which is a whole kind of different energy. Television is much more written by committee."

* The Postman Always Rings Twice is at West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds, from September 18 to October 16. Tickets 0113 213 7700.

Published: 13/09/2004