American Psycho: Almeida Theatre, London - Review

The Almedia Theatre, London 

In what could possibly be the most impolitic clash of styles (possibly) ever, the Headlong theatre company in association with the Almeida theatre present to us American Psycho as…… a musical.

It is perhaps a difficult task to imagine Bret Easton Ellis’s 1991 succès de scandale masterpiece ‘American Psycho’ taking the form of a musical. Duncan Sheik, the man who wrote the songs for the musical conceded that “It was the worst idea for the musical ever” as the idea bounced around in early 2007. However, the sleek style of artistic director Rupert Goold coupled with the humorous and inventive 15 song score of 80s pastiche from Sheik both work beautifully together to create a visually engaging, wonderfully constructed piece of musical theatre.

Matt Smith plays Patrick Bateman, the novels twisted, homicidal and narcissistic protagonist. He doesn't fail to disappoint. Sleek edged and deeply sardonic, the high cheek boned former Doctor delivers a strong performance and offers an unconventional yet highly palatable singing voice on stage. 

The production is deeply imbued with now ironic and kitsch style statements. The soundtrack burgeoning with 80s classics from the likes of Phil Collins, New Order and the Human League.

The inane nature of Phil Collins lyrics, juxtaposed against the vacuous nihilism of Bateman’s multiple murders (literally, on the dance-floor) work symbiotically as the empty electronic drum machine of ‘SuSuSudio’ serves as a metaphor for meretricious nature of New York yuppie lifestyle of the 1980s.

The songs are darkly humorous, the choreography excellent and the play excels itself visually – through psychadelic visual projection as the protagnoist suffers internal crisis. The play never descends into farce, as Smith retains the poignancy of the protagonists existential crisis whilst remaining bleakly funny and edgy.

Sheiks own score contains a compelling and humorous selection of songs, the highlights of which being an ‘ode to business cards’, one of the more memorable scenes from the film. It sets up the bitter battle with rival Paul Allen (excellently played by Ben Aldridge) questioning the genesis of the card colourings (“Is that Bone?”) before descending into a dance routine over who has the most debonair type font; who can obtain the Fischer account and who can get a reservation at Dorsia (apparently everybody but Bateman). 

Whilst a similar celebration of handbags and designer labels, shocking and provoking as Evelyn Richards and Courtney Lawrence wax lyrical about there being ‘nothing ironic about my love for Manolo Blahnik’. The pair dismisses Vivienne Westwood as only passable in ‘certain neighbourhoods’and thus perfectly encapsulating the yuppie led zeitgeist of disposable fashion and extortionately priced designer goods. During one song the backing dancers are adorned with Barneys shopping bags on their heads, characterizing a highly inventive dance routine. 

The violence and frenetic nature of Bateman as seen in the book is stifled on the stage, highly stylised with the use of visual and sound effect. The banality of the sex sequences is best portrayed during a scene where Craig Mcdermott, Patrick Bateman, Tim Price and David Van Patten all engage in a orgy of debauchery; a sexual merry go round, as prostitutes and yuppies swap positions until all that is left are the yuppies, having sex with each other. Other highly stylised moments include Matt Smith partaking in a threesome with the drug addled Cynthia and a pink teddy – a figure of her overwrought and burnt out imagination. 

Smith embraces the macho but plagued anti-hero of the text with aplomb; the only minor hiccup is as he emerges from a sun-bed at the beginning of the play boasting about his ‘toned-body’, the irony was not lost on the audience; as he still retains his slender, sonic screwdriver flaunting physique. He remains cold and emotionless throughout – described as ‘blank’ in reviews, yet the superficiality of his emotional breakdown perfectly encapsulates the solipsistic nature of the decadent 80s city lifestyle.

The play finishes summatively in the final song:

“Maybe you've been slaughtered/Maybe you've been kissed/Either way means nothing/I simply don't exist”

Tom Bamford