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A CurtainUp London Review
The musical was developed in New York by David Johnson and Jesse Singer for Act 4 Entertainment but is receiving its world premiere in London at Islington's 325 capacity, fashionable Almeida Theatre. So what of Goold's production? It is a dizzying whirl of designer fashion and values, beautifully lit on a white stage in pretty colours and, in Bateman's flat, a dominating larger than life size photographic print of a girl with zebra stripes projected onto her beautiful body, the furniture, white leather and steel.
The opening song "Clean" sees Patrick Bateman (Matt Smith) dressing with meticulous attention to hygiene and appearance. As he gets dressed, he lists off the designer branding of his clothes. The cast arrive, the women uniformly blonde in Burberry khaki raincoats. "We are so clean . . . the American Dream" go the lyrics. Switching to a NY taxi, a bright yellow leather upholstered bench seat serves, beautiful and unlike the interior of any yellow cab I've been in!
Duncan Sheik who brought us Spring Awakening is the composer and lyricist and American Psycho has plenty of accessible, if not immediately, memorable tunes. There are also songs from the originals by 1980s artists like Phil Collins, The Human League and Tears for Fears. The composer isn't helped by Matt Smith, in this, his first singing role, whose voice tends towards the Rex Harrison "spoken" approach as Smith doesn't have the power or the tuning or the experience to belt out the large songs. Fortunately the women, Susannah Fielding as Bateman's girlfriend Evelyn Williams and Cassandra Compton as his PA Jean are vocally strong and allow their melodies to shine. The girls get a song all about designer shoes.
Robert Aguirre-Sacasa has written the book for the musical and although Bateman is obsessed with the lives of serial killers, we are spared most of the violence. However, parents who have children anxious to see Dr Who star Matt Smith be warned that the simulated sex scenes are explicit and graphic.
Is there anything attractive about this set of rich bankers? That is the real weakness of the show and of course, ironically its strength, its moral pivot being that the lives of the rich and famous are not worth the living. There are allusions to Broadway theatre and Les Miserables with Jean, a real fan and Bateman telling us he can't get the tune "Master of the House" out of his head.
After the interval Bateman wears a blood spattered lab coat and reprises "I am clean" but of course, like Lady Macbeth, he can never be clean. In between scenes there is a projected fuzzy view with lighting, obscuring some of the detail. The effect is part psychedelic, part distortion and video which sees projected blood pour down. Whenever Bateman's mother (Gillian Kirkpatrick) is onstage we see a little boy, probably an allusion to abuse in childhood creating a psychopath.
The cast work impressively hard whether partying or at the gym and there are witty touches both visually and lyrically. "Every pleasure is a bore; I'm not the Common Man." sings Bateman. The scene at the Hamptons has the cast on bicycles with twin revolves either side of the Almeida stage and is an amusing take on a beach vacation.
To resist the spoiler, which will be known by all who have seen the film or read the book, I shall not be more explicit about the ending. Suffice it to say that Goold's musical skates over the surface of what it is that makes a psychopath with its state of the art imagery and with music that doesn't lift this musical onto any kind of emotional plane except contempt . . . . but maybe that is exactly what Rupert Goold wants us to feel?
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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