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Writing for Us
A CurtainUp London London Review
American Psycho

"I am simply not there" — Patrick Bateman
American Psycho
Matt Smith as Patrick Bateman (Photo: Manuel Harlan)
In 1991 Bret Easton Ellis' novel American Psycho split the literary critics. There were those who thought this tale of a New Yorker investment banker, shallow and disgusting and those that thought it was a seminal work summing up the culture and zeitgeist of the 1980s. Now Rupert Goold of the Almeida Theatre and Headlong have staged this story as a musical. I count myself as someone who shies away from the extreme, gratuitous violence and haven't read the book, nor seen the film of American Psycho, nor have any intention of doing either. I therefore apologise to readers for my lack of research.

The musical was developed in New York by David Johnson and Jesse Singer for Act 4 Entertainment but is receiving its world premiere in London at Islington's 325 capacity, fashionable Almeida Theatre. So what of Goold's production? It is a dizzying whirl of designer fashion and values, beautifully lit on a white stage in pretty colours and, in Bateman's flat, a dominating larger than life size photographic print of a girl with zebra stripes projected onto her beautiful body, the furniture, white leather and steel.

The opening song "Clean" sees Patrick Bateman (Matt Smith) dressing with meticulous attention to hygiene and appearance. As he gets dressed, he lists off the designer branding of his clothes. The cast arrive, the women uniformly blonde in Burberry khaki raincoats. "We are so clean . . . the American Dream" go the lyrics. Switching to a NY taxi, a bright yellow leather upholstered bench seat serves, beautiful and unlike the interior of any yellow cab I've been in!

Duncan Sheik who brought us Spring Awakening is the composer and lyricist and American Psycho has plenty of accessible, if not immediately, memorable tunes. There are also songs from the originals by 1980s artists like Phil Collins, The Human League and Tears for Fears. The composer isn't helped by Matt Smith, in this, his first singing role, whose voice tends towards the Rex Harrison "spoken" approach as Smith doesn't have the power or the tuning or the experience to belt out the large songs. Fortunately the women, Susannah Fielding as Bateman's girlfriend Evelyn Williams and Cassandra Compton as his PA Jean are vocally strong and allow their melodies to shine. The girls get a song all about designer shoes.

Robert Aguirre-Sacasa has written the book for the musical and although Bateman is obsessed with the lives of serial killers, we are spared most of the violence. However, parents who have children anxious to see Dr Who star Matt Smith be warned that the simulated sex scenes are explicit and graphic.

Is there anything attractive about this set of rich bankers? That is the real weakness of the show and of course, ironically its strength, its moral pivot being that the lives of the rich and famous are not worth the living. There are allusions to Broadway theatre and Les Miserables with Jean, a real fan and Bateman telling us he can't get the tune "Master of the House" out of his head.

After the interval Bateman wears a blood spattered lab coat and reprises "I am clean" but of course, like Lady Macbeth, he can never be clean. In between scenes there is a projected fuzzy view with lighting, obscuring some of the detail. The effect is part psychedelic, part distortion and video which sees projected blood pour down. Whenever Bateman's mother (Gillian Kirkpatrick) is onstage we see a little boy, probably an allusion to abuse in childhood creating a psychopath.

The cast work impressively hard whether partying or at the gym and there are witty touches both visually and lyrically. "Every pleasure is a bore; I'm not the Common Man." sings Bateman. The scene at the Hamptons has the cast on bicycles with twin revolves either side of the Almeida stage and is an amusing take on a beach vacation.

To resist the spoiler, which will be known by all who have seen the film or read the book, I shall not be more explicit about the ending. Suffice it to say that Goold's musical skates over the surface of what it is that makes a psychopath with its state of the art imagery and with music that doesn't lift this musical onto any kind of emotional plane except contempt . . . . but maybe that is exactly what Rupert Goold wants us to feel?
American Psycho
Music and Lyrics by Duncan Sheik
Book by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Based on the novel by Bret Easton Ellis
Directed by Rupert Goold
A joint production between Headlong, Act 4 Entertainment and by special arrangement with Edward R. Pressman

Starring: Matt Smith, Ben Aldridge, Susannah Fielding, Jonathan Bailey, Cassandra Compton
With: Katie Brayben, Holly Dale Spencer, Simon Gregor, Holly James, Lucie Jones, Tom Kay, Gillian Kirkpatrick, Eugene McCoy, Hugh Skinner
Choreography by Lynne Page
Set Design: Es Devlin
Costume Design: Katrina Lindsay
Orchestrations: Brian Morales
Lighting Designer: Jon Clark
Sound Designer: Paul Arditti
Video Design: Finn Ross
Orchestration: Duncan Sheik
Fight Director: Kate Waters
Musical Director and vocal arrangements: David Shrubsole
Running time: Two hours 40 minutes including one interval
Box Office: 020 7359 4404
Booking to 1st February 2014
Sold Out but a very limited number of seats available at 11am on the day in person
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 16th December 2013 performance at The Almeida Theatre, Upper Street, London N1 1TA (Tube: Angel Islington)

Musical Numbers
Act One
  • Clean
  • Everybody Wants to Rule the World
  • Cards
  • You Are What You Wear
  • Oh Sri Lanka
  • True Faith
  • Killing Time
  • In the Air Tonight
  • Hardbody
  • If We Get Married
  • Not A Common Man
Act Two
  • Mistletoe Alert
  • Hip to Be Square
  • Clean (reprise)
  • Killer Wolf
  • A Nice Thought
  • End of An Island
  • I Am Back
  • Don't You Want Me
  • A Girl Before
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