Matt Smith looks nothing like how I imagine Patrick Bateman, the axe-wielding investment banker at the heart of Bret Easton Ellis’ novel American Psycho. In fact, he doesn’t really look like any other human being apart, perhaps, from the guy who posed for the Easter Island statues.
After two minutes on stage, though – in which he shows off his carefully manicured physique wearing nothing but a pair of gleaming white briefs – you don’t have any trouble believing in him.
Whether he’s discussing if you can team tasseled loafers with a business suit (yes, obviously), or murdering prostitutes with a nail gun, he brings a joyous, detached nihilism to one of the most singularly joyless literary characters.
In tone the production veers closer to Mary Harron’s film version (2000) than the novel, steering clear of the more gruesome passages (probably wisely; nobody wants to see a musical version of how Bateman utilises a sewer rat).
The slick script also manages to capture most of Easton Ellis’s more acerbic lines – during one investment banker’s breakdown in a nightclub he screams about needing to escape from his life, to which his colleague replies: “Where to, Morgan Stanley?”
The novel offers rich material for theatrical adaptations – sharp dialogue, distinctive period visuals, blood-soaked set pieces – but putting it to a jaunty soundtrack is no mean feat. Director Rupert Goold nails it. It’s a brilliant melding of late 80s anthems – including Duran Duran, The Human League and New Order – and original, synth-pop inspired tunes. And, for the most part, it avoids the drama school-style vibrato singing that puts many people off musical theatre (exaggerated American accents help, although Jonathan Bailey has an irritating habit of lapsing into RP during his musical interludes).
Smith’s voice isn’t the most elegant, but neither were those of most of the 80s pop stars he’s borrowing from. The lyrics, meanwhile, are ingenious pastiches of rampant consumerism. The mechanical stage also allows for some striking choreography – one brilliantly executed scene sees members of the New York investment banking fraternity glide expressionlessly across the stage while Bateman slices through them with a kitchen knife; another introduces a chorus-line of dancing girls with Barney’s bags for heads.
The balance between horror, madness and surreal humour is spot-on, and clever use of projection to represent Bateman’s increasingly fraught state of mind add texture to the production.
Fans of the novel will appreciate how true it stays to the source material, while musical aficionados will enjoy the effortless lyricism of the set pieces.
If you can’t bag tickets at the Almeida, don’t worry too much: this is a dead cert for a transfer to the West End.
First published in City A.M.