Hot and bloody: American Psycho The Musical @AlmeidaTheatre

At the preview of American Psycho at the Almeida Theatre I caught last week, the audio wasn't great, the cast seemed uneasy and props were knocked over. At one point a dancer blinded by the projections seemed to fall off the stage. But there was something about this slick,  thoughtful and funny production that suggests that these are mere early days for a show that has all the makings of becoming a great new musical. The first half is too long and it could do with some more gore, but you will walk away amazed by the spectacle, style, music and performances.

American Psycho is based on the book by Brett Easton Ellis. Famous for its graphic violence and sexual content, it tells the story of Wall Street investment banker who details his life from drug-fuelled clubbing with colleagues, to obsessions over business card fonts and forays into mass murder. He is in a loveless relationship with a fellow yuppie and violent murders seem to be his release, whether they are real or imagined.

Matt Smith, of Dr Who fame, plays the lead character and all round Wall Street psycho Patrick Bateman. It is a bit of a departure from the characters he is well-known for on television. It also is a bit of shock to see him at the start looking chiseled and muscular on his tanning bed (in his Ralph Lauren underwear). Whatever workout regime he has undertaken to prepare for this role, it makes him look muscular, but slightly scary as if his skin has been pumped and pulled taught across his bones. Combined with the lighting and projections he makes for a malevolent object on stage. It is a demanding role as he is on stage most of the evening projecting either barely concealed rage or ambivalence. Over the course of the evening he becomes a towering figure and suits the material well.

The rest of the cast are particularly good at balancing the absurdity and the horror of the material. Ben Aldridge as Paul his charismatic rival and victim, can hold the tune and has great comic timing. Cassandra Compton as Jean his naive receptionist has a great scene with Gillian Kirkpatrick who plays his jaded mother where they sing about an alternative wonderful she could have with her son.

For a musical about superficiality, brand obsession and the excesses of the late twentieth century it captures this sentiment well. The music written by Spring Awakening composer Duncan Sheik is a pastiche of 80s synth pop combined with songs from Genesis and Huey Lewis and the News (which form an essential part of the story). Where the show is less successful is where it tends to ape the conventions of musicals with ballads from the characters and a series of exposition songs in the first half. This tends to slow down the drama and hopefully as this piece evolves some cuts will be made.

It is a stylish looking production designed by Es Devlin with a bank of videotapes against the walls and projections used to capture the spirit of the times. Some key scenes taken from the book are also  executed effectively. The first murder of a homeless person is incredibly tense and builds suspense. The closing scene of the first act where he murders his colleague is delivered with humour and style. But perhaps for a show about psycho killer, we could do with a bit more blood and gore, as you are not buying tickets to the Sound of Music so you should know what you are going to see.

Directed by Rupert Goold, American Psycho is a co-production with Headlong in association with Act 4 Entertainment by special arrangement with Edward R. Pressman. Book by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa; music and lyrics by Duncan Sheik.

The run which continues to the end of January has sold out but there is the chance of a limited number of day seats available for certain performances. Definitely worth catching and bragging you saw it at the Almeida first... Check the theatre website for details.

Photo credits: Manuel Harlan and Headlong Theatre

Popular posts from this blog

Opera and full frontal nudity: Rigoletto

Opera: The Minotaur

More comings and goings: F*cking Men @KingsHeadThtr