American Psycho**** (Almeida Theatre, 3 January 2014)

Posted: January 4, 2014 in Theatre

photo-82Seeing VCRs and Sony Walkmans paraded as treasured possessions in Rupert Goold’s musical version of Brett Easton Ellis’s modern classic tale of 1980s New York reminds us how fleeting such fads can be. A quarter of a century later, they are replaced by smart phones, streaming, social media, etc, but nothing that really matters seems to have changed at all and none of the lessons seem to have been learned.  The lyrics of one of the songs protests that the story is not an allegory, but it is exactly that, satirising city lifestyles and weaving in existentialist themes. The main characters’ working lives are driven by greed, status and materialism; their social lives are fuelled by lust, drugs and alcohol. The first half of the show devotes itself to demonstrating the emptiness of all this and, although it is generally entertaining, it eventually runs out of different ways to hammer home the same point. However, the central character, Patrick Bateman, has long been obsessed with grizzly serial murderers and, once he begins to emulate his heroes, things really get moving. The first half ends with the first splattering of blood and what follows after the interval is infinitely better. Robert Aguirre-Sacasa’s book serves the story, but lacks consistent wit. Similarly, Duncan Sheik’s pop/rock score and lyrics are functional but unmemorable, their shortcomings being highlighted by half a dozen 80s classics which are imported. Therefore, this show needs outstanding staging and performances to lift it above the ordinary and it gets both. The minimalist set design allows for freedom of movement and rapidly changing projections, whilst two revolves help to provide slick progress throughout. The show’s best scene is a dazzling song and dance routine in which Bateman goes on a murderous rampage, slaughtering the entire chorus line. As Bateman, Matt Smith is star casting, obviously, but he is absolutely terrific, showing an awesome stage presence and he can almost sing. He manages to convince equally  as a cold, ruthless killer and as a lost and lonely man who has never been able to make anyone happy, not even himself. He believes that he is not really alive, but shows that he is struggling to become so when reaching out to his loyal and besotted PA (beautifully played by Cassandra Compton). This relationship is genuinely touching and it gives the show its emotional heart. All the other performances are top class and it matters little that there are few real singers. This show is packed with original ideas, it plays around with conventions of musical theatre and kicks out many of the tired cliches. Refreshingly different.

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