February 01, 2014

Bloody Good Fun: An American Psycho Rampant in London

             American Psycho, a book written by Bret Easton Ellis, and its movie rendition starring Christian Bale have amassed cult followings, which is why it should come as no surprise that a musical has now been dedicated to its namesake. Wait, a musical about a New York businessman come serial killer? Surely, the idea seems a little off-kilter and perhaps even a little off-putting, but erect Patrick Bateman in stage form with help from Matt Smith of Doctor Whosuperstardom and people suddenly warm to the idea.

             A very clear schism opened up as people flocked to the Almeida Theatre in Islington. Divided between the Doctor Who fans and the American Psychofans, I fell into the latter category, but I spied a girl casually catching up onDoctor Who episodes before the show was scheduled to begin. I admit I was skeptical of Smith’s ability to get into character of a crazed self-obsessed, immaculately groomed, high-powered psychopath. However, Smith’s interpretation transformed Bateman into a robotic automaton, merely going through the motions of a trapped soul curiously unsatisfied with his covetable life of hedonism. His stilted, lackadaisical American accent wasn’t half bad either!

             The Almeida Theatre was sweetly intimate, with even circle seats providing a more than close for comfort view. The theatre only reaches a capacity of 325, making the stage production an experience that the audience can easily become involved in. The stage was flooded with light modern designs befitting of the novel’s sleek aesthetic (and the businessmen’s depicted tastes). Two conveyor belts on either side allowed for objects and people to come and go without fuss. Props such as a cushy yellow interior of a taxi emerged from the stage’s trap door, along with Bateman’s tanning bed and closet, before they sunk back into the abyss of anonymity, a central theme surrounding the story.

Bateman (Smith, left) and Tim Price (Jonathan Bailey, right) in one of many taxi rides, photo courtesy of Manuel Harlan
             The original music and lyrics produced by Duncan Sheik actually worked, and brilliantly at that. The musical’s failing could have been in its forced leap to create songs for this satirical story, but they adeptly mimicked the black comedy’s motives. Only avid fans would probably pick up on some of the tongue-in-cheek phrases utilized, such as “hardbody,” a term Bateman and his friends used to describe a woman with a good body. In fact, there was a song devoted entirely to the topic, where a scantily clad (obviously female) cast member conducted an exercise session where Bateman’s colleagues tried to keep their tongues in their mouths.

             Bateman’s musical snobbery did not go without recognition, as songs like “In the Air Tonight” by Phil Collins were reproduced by the cast in the midst of one of Bateman’s killing sprees, a setting that would probably come as most unexpected to Collins himself. Plenty of electro and synth did 1980s Manhattan proud while Bateman and associate, Tim Price (Jonathan Bailey), snorted lines of coke and subsequently burst into song. “You Are What You Wear” rang out as an ode to brand names such as Prada, Gucci, Balenciaga, and Manolo Blahnik, a perfect testament to the superficial world Bateman and Co. lived in, obsessed with status and fuelled by jealousy and one-upmanship.

The cast of American Psycho wining and diningphoto courtesy of Manuel Harlan 
             Smith kept his composure while portraying a man who slashed and hacked his way to feel something, anything, other than mind-numbing boredom and apathy. From a homeless bum he taunted with money, to tortured hookers, to his own workmate, Paul Owen (Ben Aldridge), Bateman acted with bone-crunching precision. Donning his characteristic raincoat and maniacally singing Huey Lewis And The News’ “Hip To Be Square” while doing his dirty work, sheets continued to be seeped with blood as his thirst for sadistic violence and grotesque inhumanity accelerated on a downward spiral.

Photo courtesy of Manuel Harlan 
             The musical mainly paid homage to the book’s storyline with reverence, as Bateman never did get that reservation at Dorsia, or have the best business card with its “Bone” coloring, or get acknowledged for all matters of sins that he confessed, but this consumerism commentary ended not as its predecessor did. To throw a spanner into the works, rather than kicking his long-term girlfriend, Evelyn Williams (Susannah Fielding), to the curb, Bateman actually married her! I saw this as Bateman embracing his inevitable fate, that he was destined to swim with the tide rather than against it, to spend his life doing exactly what society expected him to do, regardless of whether his heart (or lack thereof) was in it.

All that remained of Paul Owen (played by Ben Aldridge) after Bateman was finished with him 
             American Psycho aficionados, I regret to say that after a strong run from December, today is the musical’s last day at the Almeida Theatre. Although, I can confidently assume that this is not the last we’ve seen of Mr. Bateman. Check out what else is on at the Almeida Theatre here.

No comments:

Post a Comment