Saturday, 18 January 2014

Review - "American Psycho - The Musical"

It's an intriguing concept - a musical version of something as controversial as "American Psycho" certainly raises eyebrows - but it's a concept that works ... and works superbly.  In fact, it works so well that I believe it lends clarity to the book - which is a remarkably ambiguous novel.  You sort of had two options in the book - either Patrick really killed those people or it was all in his head.  The musical isn't as ambiguous - and I very much appreciated that.

On first entering the theatre, what immediately struck us was that the Almeida Theatre is small - it seats just over 300 - and, as such, you really feel that you are a part of this experience, that Patrick is talking to YOU.  Patrick will make eye contact with and speak to the audience - asking one person if they liked his painting, for example.   The musical is more immersive because of this first person narrative - you're not an uninvolved watcher, you are instead WITH Patrick as he shows you what "being Patrick Bateman" means to him.  It's not just Patrick who involves the audience - Paul Owen's first appearance is walking down one of the theatre aisles and shaking hands with various audience members.

The set is gorgeous - so wonderfully 80's and the stage itself has rather neat "turntables" either side so new sets can be moved into place quickly.  It also allows people and objects to casually cruise around on them - brilliant during nightclub scenes etc.  Is it just the Almeida that has this?  I don't know if this is a normal thing with West End theatres (hey, I'm from Penzance...we don't get out much).  With a gorgeous set, stylish clothes and a flawless looking cast, the rest of the production had to be up to snuff - and it was.  The music (by Grammy and Tony Award winner, Duncan Sheik) was perfect - not a duff note anywhere.  It was a mix of 80's songs such as, obviously, "Hip to be Square", "True Faith" and "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" with new compositions such as "Not a Common Man", "Clean" and, my personal favourite, "This Is Not An Exit".

I expected "American Psycho - The Musical" to be a bit odd, possibly gory and violent.  The killings were done very well - with blood red projections on the scenery - and they had an unreal quality about them which was a good link to the fact that it was all happening in Patrick's head.  The only time you saw blood was following Paul Owen's murder - when Patrick appeared wearing the blood splattered rain coat and holding an axe.

What I didn't expect was that this production would be witty, extremely stylish and very thought-provoking.  I didn't think I would laugh during this - but there are some very witty lines and moments such as the now infamous business card scene, Patrick determining to kill Luis and then practically running away when Luis declares he's in love with him, etc.  It was also thought-provoking in that their obsessions with appearances and material gain still hold firm today - it's still identifiable.  It isn't "out of time" - it's most definitely up-to-date - worryingly so.

It's all very well having a good production - but you need a good cast to carry it off.  They struck gold here.  The cast are just superb.  I would single out two of the ladies for special kudos.  First,  Susannah Fielding who plays Patrick's girlfriend, Evelyn Williams.  Her character was vacuous and shallow - and Ms Fielding pulled it off with great aplomb.  Secondly, Cassandra Compton who played Patrick's secretary, Jean.  We all knew that Jean was in love with Patrick, which garnered a lot of sympathy from the audience and, in the wrong hands, Jean could have been insignificant or cloying.  She wasn't.  She was Patrick's redemption - and Ms Compton blew us away with her voice - she absolutely has the voice of an angel.

The casting of Patrick Bateman was all-important.  The main character who is on stage for 99% of the production.  Casting Matt Smith in the role of a psychopathic serial killer (who has to sing) raised some eyebrows.  It was probably a gamble on both sides but one that has paid off in spades.  Having read the book, I never really clicked with the Christian Bale version of Bateman...I thought he was too manic.  In Matt Smith, we have a Patrick Bateman you can believe.    He's creepy and intense, shallow and obsessed and, although he's not exactly what you would call a sympathetic character, you find yourself caring about him and feeling sorry for him especially when everything starts to unravel.  Matt's singing is remarkably good - he holds his own very well - and, in particular, his rendition of "This is Not an Exit" is utterly gorgeous.  Before this I never would have thought that Matt Smith could really sing and dance.  Trust me, he can - in fact, he's quite a fluid dancer.  I have to mention the body (it seems to be quite the talking point on social media).  Bateman is "ripped and toned" - and the moment Matt rises on stage wearing nothing but an eye mask and white underpants, the fact that there were some whimpers and gasps from people around us really says it all.

Matt Smith obviously put an awful lot of work into this - and I don't just mean the body, although 9 weeks of intensive training apparently went in to that particular transformation.  He's not a professional singer or dancer so presumably was heavily coached and trained for those aspects of the role.  On top of all that he still had an awful lot of lines to learn and a character to absorb.  Honestly, my admiration for him knows no bounds - and you have to wonder if there's anything he CAN'T do.  He took my breath away - what an absolutely incredible actor he is.  

I really, really want to see this show again.  It was delicious and sublime.  So many scenes are burned onto my mind - that body, the nightclub killings, the sex scenes (yes, he has a threesome with Luis' girlfriend, Courtney and a giant pink teddy bear but him having sex with a dead body in a nightclub was worryingly hot) and, of course, the gorgeous songs. Unfortunately, there's not much chance to see it again unless it transfers to the West End or something.  It finishes at the Almeida on 1 February and you can queue for day or return tickets: more information here.  In the meantime, keep your fingers crossed for a Cast Soundtrack release or even a DVD recording.  

Rating:  11 out of 10 - more than perfect.