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American Psycho

Published 13 December 2013

When it was first announced, American Psycho seemed musical theatre’s most unlikely source material, except maybe that of the National Theatre’s London Road, set in the aftermath of a spate of Ipswich killings.

But musical theatre, despite its reputation for jazz hands and high-kicking show tunes, has its fair share of homicidal maniacs. Think of Sweeney Todd or the masked man with the largest number of tuneful deaths to his name, The Phantom.

Yet Bret Easton Ellis’ novel caused such controversy when it was published, due to its vivid descriptions of sex and death, that many wondered how it could translate to the stage… and with songs.

We should not have worried. This is Headlong we are talking about – co-producing with the Almeida theatre and Act 4 Entertainment – and director Rupert Goold.

The piece still has the ability to shock – it would surely be considered a failure if it didn’t – with neon representations of sex and the odd gore-soaked body – but far from dwelling on butchery, blood and misogynistic sex it is far more interested in being a character study of protagonist Patrick Bateman and an exploration of his early 90s Wall Street world, which is as shallow as a training pool of piranhas and as vacuous as a Dyson warehouse.

This world, where owning the best business card is a matter of macho pride and people lose sleep over getting a reservation at the right restaurant, tips Bateman over the edge, his release and touching point with humanity coming through the most brutal means.

Like the novel, much of the musical is delivered as a first person monologue, making the central role a huge one.

Matt Smith, who bows out as Doctor Who this Christmas, barely leaves the stage. His entrance may immediately become one of the most iconic in musical theatre history. Without giving too much away, the Time Lord appears barely covered and looking more ripped than the clothes of a teenage victim trying to escape in an 80s slasher flick.

He may not be the company’s most proficient singer, but he makes up for that with a mesmeric performance that finds a deep sadness in this man on the edge, exposing his struggle with inner demons. And he wears a suit well.

Around him Susannah Fielding is the perfect Wall Street girlfriend, desperate for every detail of her life to be plucked from the pages of Vogue, Jonathan Bailey adds to his growing list of impressive performances as Bateman’s best friend and in many a camp cameo, and Cassandra Compton provides the heart of the piece, playing the only truly likeable character and filling Bateman’s secretary with sweet naivety and belief in human goodness.

The music comes from Duncan Sheik, no stranger to controversial subject matter having brought the tale of young love, abuse and realised sexuality Spring Awakening to the stage. Here he takes inspiration from the electropop of the late 80s so beloved of Bateman.

Anthemic opening number Clean, in particular, feels synth-tastically perfect to set the mood of the show, at once exultant and deeply ominous, while ode to labels You Are What You Wear could come straight off an early Madonna album (albeit with a touch of irony added).

Interspersed are a handful of classic 80s tracks – well, classic in my book anyway – with Everybody Wants To Rule The World never more appropriate and In The Air Tonight never more creepy.

Lynne Page’s choreography hits the spot like a well placed axe, shifting from frantic, desperate and uncontrolled to a dance floor routine of preening and self-adjustment.

This is a Goold production, the same director who brought us ENRON, Patrick Stewart’s Macbeth and Earthquakes In London. The very least we’d expect is invention and a staging that would smack us right between the eyes like a chainsaw wielded by Leatherface.

That’s what we get: a production with as much style as Bateman and his friends put together that boasts some killer lines and packs one hell of a punch.

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