Sunday, 8 December 2013

American Psycho - Almeida Theatre - Saturday 7 December *****

The Almeida finally has a stab at a musical and I couldn’t have hoped for a better early Christmas present. Based on Brett Easton Ellis’s controversial 1991 mega-hit novel about a yuppie Wall Street serial killer, Patrick Bateman, obsessed with labels, video nasties and slaughter in equal measure, this is a funny stylish black comedy with a fabulous dark retro electro-pop score.

The book is by Robert Aguirre-Sacasa and the original songs could have been lifted from the first two Depeche Mode albums but are in fact newly composed by Duncan “Spring Awakening” Sheik. Interspersed throughout are eighties anthems from Tears For Fears (Everybody Wants To Rule The World), New Order (True Faith), Phil Collins (In The Air Tonight), Duran Duran (Hungry Like The Wolf with new lyrics), Human League (Don’t You Want Me) and Huey Lewis (Hip To Be Square) perfectly crystallising Patrick Bateman’s questionable musical predilections.

Bateman is the bore we’ve all suffered who imagines they have impeccable taste in clothes, art, interior decor, restaurants & grooming products, when in reality they confuse sophistication with adverts in glossy magazines.

On a stark white stage Matt Smith rises out of the floor on a vertical sun bed clad only in an eye mask and tight whities and he barely leaves for the next two and a half hours. With the Tardis packed and parked, a handsome, ripped and cropped Smith is all-but unrecognisable from his former day job and commands the stage with a magnetic presence and pleasing baritone. Ad-libbing as the pesky Mies van der Rohe Barcelona chairs refuse to comply with the twin revolves on more than one occasion, Smith proves himself supremely capable of carrying a show and has true name-above-the-title star quality.

Bateman’s nemesis, Paul Owen, makes an early appearance. More successful, better looking, better dressed and with a better business card, Owen mistakes Bateman for someone else and it is only a matter of time until Bateman seeks revenge.

As Bateman picks off everyone who causes him the merest slight, there is a sudden departure as the worst he can offer a closeted gay colleague who professes undying love for him in the middle of Barneys is that he doesn’t love him back or find him attractive. He later finds enough compassion to have mercy on his adoring secretary, Jean, a wonderful study in stillness and unrequited love him from Cassandra Compton, and sends her home rather than lay her open to his murderous wiles.

Finding a clarity lacking in the novel, this dissection of the psyche of a stressed, over-achieving, cokehead finally lays it on the line. The killings only happen in Bateman’s imagination. When he hears “murders and executions”, everyone else hears “mergers and acquisitions”, what he thinks are his fabricated alibis are the actual truth.

Somewhat unbelievably, Patrick Bateman is a big city everyman. Who hasn’t wished they had a knife for every tourist lingering to the left of the escalator; a Luger for every cyclist racing through a flashing green-man; an axe for every wanker paying for their decaf skinny latte with a credit card; a nail-gun for every arsehole texting throughout a musical? Or is that just me and Mr Bateman?

Climaxing with a wedding scene that Bateman is confused rather than thrilled by, as his confessions to a myriad of murders go unheard, this portrait of a man on edge could be any one of us who has scowled as some bastard has got onto the tube before letting us off and we pray that they’ll slip under the train onto the tracks.

I think you may have gathered that I absolutely loved this. Matt Smith is magnificent, the book is hysterical laugh-out-loud, the score is the perfect mix of neo-goth electro and pop and the direction by Rupert Goold keeps clarity and action to the fore, temperamental revolves aside. I wished I had nabbed more tickets for later in the now sold-out run, but I’ll satisfy myself with memories of Smith and the rest of the faultless cast in the Tunnel Club bad-eighties dancing to the Christmas number one from 32 years ago.

Booking until 1 February 2014, sold out, but day seats available from 13 December in person from 10am at the box office, do yourself a favour and get out the sleeping bag. Thrilling, chilling and terribly funny - American Psycho


  1. Hi! Interesting review but it seems like we didn't watch the same musical. I guess I'll never read an objective review about American Psycho as it seems most people writing reviews are deaf fans of Matt Smith. The supporting cast is really outstanding, I love them all in their performance, but Matt Smith is a mediocre singer at best, his vocal range is very limited. I booked to enjoy a musical thriller but the musical was too entertaining to be scary. I wished it was not a musical, you can't be scared by a parody.

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    1. Strangely Karin, the only time I have previously seen Matt Smith was in Christopher and His Kind, which I enjoyed but would not have described myself as a fan, that is until I saw American Psycho, which I agree with you was exceptionally entertaining.

  3. Can't comment on Matt Smith's singing abilities (yet) but it's nice to read a positive review of a new show after all the snark and vitriol heaped on virtually every new show of the last months. Very much looking forward to this, it seems right down my alley.


    Count me in!

  4. Uh, that quote was eaten by the system. Just wanted to say, no you're not alone in wanting to murder people who block sidewalks or text in the theatre.