American Psycho: A New Musical Thriller
Dir: Rupert Goold
160 min • Almeida Theatre, London • Until February 1, 2014
Little Bastard reviews
It’s not every day that your favourite scene from a stage musical involves two dead, blood-splattered and still twitching prostitutes singing backing vocals for an all American psychopath. But then, it’s not every day that you see a musical based on Bret Easton Ellis’ modern classic American Psycho.
Patrick Bateman is essentially the ’80s American Dream. He has the perfect body, the perfect hair, the perfect designer suit, and the perfect high-paid job. His obsession with the approval of others matches our own desire as a society for acceptance and social power. Patrick Bateman is the show off in all of us … the selfish, attention-seeking dark side we don’t want to admit to. And, in this production, he is also Matt Smith.
One of our best stage actors before he was thrown into international stardom in Doctor Who, Matt Smith completely embodies Bateman. From the opening, now iconic, sunbed sequence (showing off his athletic body in a pair of white briefs) through to his cold-blooded killing spree, his desire to be noticed pours out of every word and gesture. It’s obvious that Smith is not the most confident of singers, but the stunningly abstract ’80s electro score, punctuated with the soaring, angst-filled melodies that composer Duncan Sheik has been known for all his career, suits Smiths voice perfectly. He’s tuneful, but doesn’t over sing (probably because he can’t) which gives Bateman a grounding in reality that is lost in so many musical theatre performances.
Aside from Matt Smiths skillful portrayal of Bateman, a lot of the characters are intentional caricatures, mocking the ’80s yuppie elite, with their focus on fashion, drugs and sushi.
Now, I was at the show’s first preview, and the audience almost seemed unprepared for such a deep, dark show. When the male characters burst into a beautiful musical number whilst exchanging business cards, essentially the yuppie equivalent of “who has the biggest penis”, the number, skillfully choreographed by Lynne Page, makes the audience roar with laughter. This happens at a few points in the show, whether it’s the absurdity of a musical number or an eerily accurate ’80s suit, or even one of the few existing ’80s songs that are rearranged and crammed into the already busy and stunning score, and I’m left a little confused by the audience reaction. Yes, American Psycho is heavy on satire (as was its source material) but it’s not funny. Yes, there are jokes and there are light moments, but I was mystified by many of the large laughs the audience erupted into. Regardless, they seemed to enjoy themselves, but I felt a slight disservice was done to the cast and the incredible work they were doing, particularly in the business card scene, where the beautiful and challenging choreography (complete with floating business card hand tricks) seemed to be reduced to a full on comedy number by a large percentage of the audience.
The cast are all incredibly talented, but alongside Matt Smith the person who shone through the dark subject matter is Cassandra Compton, who does the best work of her career as Patrick’s secretary, Jean. The most human of all the characters here, Jean is the one piece of redemption in the soulless commercial world, and Patrick’s acceptance of that brief slice of redemption towards the end of the tale is extremely moving. She also aces what is the closest this musical has to a show stopping ballad, proving she is one of the most seasoned musical theatre performers on the stage.
Now, this isn’t exacty Andrew Lloyd Webber (arguably a good thing in this case) and Rupert Goold’s gorgeous but frenetic direction, coupled with the gruesome subject matter and Sheiks eclectic and lo-fi score, make this the musical with the least commercial potential I have seen in years … which is a shame, as it’s also the best new musical I have seen in years. I laughed, I cried, I was left bewildered and shocked, but grinning from ear to ear. And all that, it was the first preview – so this show can only get better.
American Psycho is a beautifully put together piece of work that deserves a longer run than it has at North London’s prestigious Alemida Theatre. Unfortunately it lacks the commercial power to work in a large West End venue. The show runs until 1st February 2014, but is mostly sold out. You might have to kill someone to get a ticket, and if you do I suggest wearing a rain mack and using an axe – it worked for Patrick.