American Psycho as a musical? You might be thinking it sounds tricky to shoehorn jazz hands into a story of torture, cannibalism and necrophilia. Bret Easton Ellis’s 1991 cult satire of consumer culture and hedonistic excess in 1980s New York City, with its explicit sex scenes and extreme violence, isnâ€™t exactly traditional musical theatre material, but Rupert Gooldâ€™s stylish production rises to the challenge.
Soon-to-be-ex-Doctor Matt Smith stars as image-obsessed psychopath Patrick Bateman, a 26-year-old Wall Street yuppie who deals in murders and executions â€“ sorry, mergers and acquisitions. With his carefully sculpted pecs and flawless tan, Smith makes a cold, convincing Bateman. His face impassive and his voice a blank monotone, he alternates between moments of intense focus and anxious distraction. And he’s well supported. The talented ensemble includes strong performances from Susannah Fielding as his demanding but impeccably dressed girlfriend, Evelyn, Hugh Skinner as the closeted Luis Carruthers (his tortured breakdown when rebuffed by Patrick is sublime) and Cassandra Compton as his smitten secretary, Jean, a sweet, naive oddity in his meaningless world of rich plastic narcissists.
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s script is faithful to the novel, though the violence has been toned down significantly for this stage version, with many of the more disturbing scenes cut entirely. (No rat scene. Sorry, folks.) But the bloody murders that are included are stylishly executed, with the help of clever lighting design and brutal sound effects. As for the music, Duncan Sheik’s synth-heavy numbers are exuberant and catchy â€“ You Are What You Wear (‘there’s nothing ironic about our love of Manolo Blahnik’), an homage to high-end fashion, is a particular favourite.
With its pumping electronic score, slick choreography and glaring strobes, this glossy, high-energy production is almost overbearingly loud, garish and flashy â€“ in a good way. It mirrors the drug-fuelled nightmare that is Patrick Bateman’s superficial existence and mocks the constant hunger for stimulation, misplaced values and emptiness of modern life, all of which grow ever more relevant. Bateman asks in the finale: ‘Am I just a version of the end of days? Am I just an effect of a modern phase?â€¦ Should we be afraid?’ We probably should.
American Psycho runs until 1 February at the Almeida Theatre, Almeida Street, London N1 1TA. Contact the box office on 020 7359 4404 for day tickets. Londonist saw this production on a complimentary press ticket.