American Psycho, theatre review: Matt Smith regenerates as ripped uber-narcissist

Almeida Theatre, London

Paul Taylor
Friday 13 December 2013 01:01
Matt Smith stars in 'American Psycho' at the Almeida
Matt Smith stars in 'American Psycho' at the Almeida

At the start of Rupert Goold's diabolically slick production, Matt Smith rises out of the floor on a vertical sun bed clad in only tight white undies and an eye-patch. It's a startling spectacle: Dr Who regenerated as a ripped uber-narcissist. “Flash your smile/Bare your teeth/They'll never guess/ What's underneath”, the yuppie chorus advise him.

His compelling Patrick is more opaque and much less manic than Christian Bale in Mary Harron's excellent movie. He wears his beauty as a mask; the lack of colour in his singing voice becomes part of Bateman's blankness. In this version, his secretary Jean (Cassandra Compton) gets to warble about her unrequited devotion.

A tender kiss from her topples him into an even keener sense of his own nullity. Spoiler alert: there's an inspired twist, the blackly comic climax of a wedding to Susannah Fielding's clamorous Evelyn. His “confessions” all ignored or disbelieved, Patrick is impotent to stop this waking nightmare and signals to us from within the prison of his unconquerable solipsism: “Maybe you've been slaughtered/Maybe you've been kissed/Either way means nothing/I simply don't exist”.

Welcome to the new musical version of American Psycho which has a book by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and songs by Duncan Sheik, the acclaimed composer of Spring Awakening.

Bret Easton Ellis's 1991 novel in which capitalist extremism is satirised through a psychopathic serial-killing Wall Street banker seems an improbable subject for a tuner. But this witty, almost terminally knowing show tackles that difficulty with deadpan cheek. The electro-pop score unveils original numbers (reminiscent of early Depeche Mode) which either target the yuppie obsession with surfaces (such as the ogling “Tight Body” which is performed during a gym work-out) or comment on the existential crisis of our anti-hero Patrick Bateman as he struggles to control the inner and outer void.

Though it calls itself “a musical thriller“, the show is short on visceral tension.

Patrick's sadistic spasms with axe and nail gun are stylised, choreographed turns that aren't going to land the Almeida with crippling laundry bills as the gore mostly virtual and drips down the digitalised designs.

The new songs suggest that numb conformist banality does not offer satire an extensive tonal palette. And Goold gets up to some familiar tricks – the yuppies whose bonces are swanky carrier bags inevitably recall the raptor heads in Enron. At the interval, I was very undecided.

But the all-singing-and-dancing company perform the piece with terrific attack and the second half manages to take you into Patrick's panicking emptiness without a hint of sentimentality or sanitisation. It's a great joke that this deluded snob lauds Les Miserables for its “sheer unabashed emotionality” in a musical that is a caustic antidote to that style.

To February 1 2014; 020 7359 4404

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