When London’s Almeida Theatre announced it was to stage a musical version of Bret Easton Ellis’ infamous novel, American Psycho, I was definitely amongst those who laughed. When it was then announced that Doctor Who star Matt Smith was to take the lead role as psychopath Patrick Bateman, I quickly stopped laughing and joined in the ridiculously competitive hunt for tickets.
The show was a complete sell-out, with those who had missed out queuing up in the early hours of the morning day after day to grab any available day tickets. The show received positive reviews from even the toughest of critics, and when it closed on February 1st, left people questioning whether it would be transferred to the bigger stages of the West End and even Broadway.
But what made the show so successful? Naturally, the allure of a name like Matt Smith brought Whovians screaming and fighting each other for tickets – and I’ll admit I was one of them – but the show itself was truly remarkable. Anyone who has seen the film, featuring the admittedly delightful Christian Bale, will remember a strange, albeit entertaining, mixture of fashion, gore and Huey Lewis and the News, which was at times hilarious, though perhaps not always intentionally. However, for those who have read Easton Ellis’ novel, it tells a far darker tale of Patrick Bateman, and you really don’t want to laugh. He is more than “a pretty sick guy” (American Psycho, film), his “personality is sketchy and unformed, [his] heartlessness goes deep and is persistent. [His] conscience, [his] pity, [his] hopes disappeared a long time ago (probably at Harvard) if they ever did exist. There are no more barriers to cross” (American Psycho, novel). The film, whilst successful and entertaining, never truly captured the seriousness of Bateman’s depravity.
The musical, on the other hand, managed to skilfully combine the humour and entertainment of the movie with the serious side of Easton Ellis’ novel. Kevin Clarke of Out.com said, “You could say that the entire new musical version tells the story better and with more emotional depth than the movie, which managed to skip over every single great aspect of the book without making an impact”, and I’m inclined to agree. Having played the Doctor, the ultimate dichotomy of saviour and warrior, Matt Smith seems to have perfected the art of playing the torn man, and as such portrays the Patrick Bateman who is capable of committing atrocities without regret, but also the Patrick Bateman who is desperately lost, seeking any kind of meaning in a world he can simply not understand.
What is also approached a lot more seriously in the musical than in the movie is the gay aspect of the plot. Luis Carruthers, played masterfully in the Almeida’s production by Hugh Skinner, falls for the main man himself, Patrick Bateman. In the movie, Carruthers is “reduced to a caricature”, but the musical “takes Luis’s longings and frustrations seriously” (Out.com), and the aspect of Luis’s affection is never pushed to the side, but rather embraced as an integral part of the story.
The heart of a musical is, of course, the music, and the show marvellously reflected the novel in its homage to 80s music. The songs written exclusively for the musical were catchy, and at times wonderfully witty. A particular crowd favourite was “You Are What You Wear”, performed by Bateman’s fiancée, Evelyn, and her friend Courtney, in which they basically just reel off designer brands, the killer (pardon the American Psycho pun) line being “Let’s be clear, there’s nothing ironic/ About our love of Manolo Blahnik”. Whilst hilarious, the song portrays the insane materialism that afflicts almost all of the show’s characters. The majority of the songs manage to hold onto the humour of the show, including a brilliant moment where Evelyn (Susannah Fielding) is singing about Patrick taking her hand in marriage, and Patrick chants back with “I’ll cut off her hand,”. There are, however, also some incredibly poignant musical moments, including show opener “Clean”, and a heartfelt ballad sung by Jean (Cassandra Compton), Patrick’s secretary who is hopelessly in love with him.
The dance numbers also truly capture the spirit of the 80s, with some truly wonderful dancing to hits such as “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” and “Hip To Be Square”, though Doctor Who fans may be saddened to know that Matt Smith doesn’t bring out the drunken giraffe.
American Psycho: The Musical has now completed its run at the small but elegant Almeida Theatre, and its future, at present, remains unknown. For a show that “dangerously entertained” audiences night after night, and that was said to “delight even those who think they don’t like musicals”, there surely must be at least a West End transfer, if not a Broadway run, to return the infamous Patrick Bateman to those famous New York streets.
Having seen the show, and having had the songs stuck in my head for the past month, I’m praying it returns. If it does make it back to the stage, make sure you get your hands on a ticket…
It’s to die for.
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