American Psycho vs. American Psycho

Let battle commence.

The trappings of wealth don't bother Mr Bateman.

The trappings of wealth don’t bother Mr Bateman. Image: Manuel Harlan via Almeida Theatre

Last week I was lucky enough to get my mitts on two tickets to see Robert Goold’s musical adaptation of the Brett Easton Ellis novel, American Psycho.

In the novel, Patrick Bateman is a high-flying 80’s Wall St. banker who whilst being a fully enrolled member of the high society, consumerist lifestyle of his peers, harbours the darker and much bloodier extra-circular pastime of brutally murdering the people around him.

The story follows Bateman as he gives us a glimpse at the consumerist culture in which he thrives. He discusses his beauty regime, his fitness program and the material accoutrements of his lifestyle, including his fine suits, shoes and artworks.

The show jumps from the tedious to the terrifying with whimsical ease, one moment we are shown Bateman and pals vainly comparing their business cards’ stock and typography. The next, Bateman commits his first murder, stabbing to death in cold blood a tramp he has declared socially superfluous in a fit of frenzied rage. We then cut to a fantastically choreographed scene of the Rich and Beautiful at their gym class, working out to perfect their ‘hard bodies.’ This was probably my favourite scene in the production. Watch it to see why.

The juxtaposition* of murder and mayhem, with yuppie cool works wonderfully on the stylised set by Es Devlin who has also designed sets for the likes of Kanye West and Jay Z’s Watch the Throne tour, and the closing ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games. The set design was minimalist yet superb, creating a beautiful vista with the use of projections and props to bring every scene to life, and transitions from scene to scene were barely noticed.

The original score by Duncan Sheik works almost too perfectly to compliment the visuals, with the highlight being the scene where Bateman and his fiancée are taking a getaway in the Hamptons. Other notable moments include one of the opening sequences where the lead female characters sing a hymn to the virtues of Armani, Chanel and Jean Paul Gaultier. Reinforcing the rampant label worship that is required in the world of Bateman and co.

Whilst being written as a social satire of the 80’s culture of excess and commoditization of the individual, the story is still very much relevant to the present day, perhaps particularly now given the media spotlight on the excesses of bankers bonuses and a heightened public awareness of the ravage consumerism that we are all a part of. Ellis claimed in an interview in 2010 with the California Chronical that he was parodying the void that exists in everybody who takes part in this consumerism, including himself:

“I have to say the same thing about Patrick Bateman. He was crazy the same way. He did not come out of me sitting down and wanting to write a grand sweeping indictment of yuppie culture. It initiated because my own isolation and alienation at a point in my life. I was living like Patrick Bateman. I was slipping into a consumerist kind of void that was supposed to give me confidence and make me feel good about myself but just made me feel worse and worse and worse about myself. That is where the tension of “American Psycho” came from. It wasn’t that I was going to make up this serial killer on Wall Street. High concept. Fantastic. It came from a much more personal place, and that’s something that I’ve only been admitting in the last year or so. I was so on the defensive because of the reaction to that book that I wasn’t able to talk about it on that level.”

The story is nothing without that cast that brings it alive, and much credit is due to Matt Smith, who I later realised was the very same Matt Smith who has been playing Doctor Who for the past year. With his chiselled jaw and ‘hard body’ he brought Bateman to life perfectly. Perhaps however, there was a little too much sympathy developing for his dark and twisted character towards the end sequence. The standout performance for me was Cassandra Compton who played Jean, Bateman’s immediately likeable, adoring secretary. Her singing was a highlight of the performance.

I found the story to be a little easier to digest on stage in contrast to the film adaptation or original book. Whilst with those mediums, the question arises as to whether Bateman really committed the murders, is fabulous deranged and imagined the whole story, or if he is simply a symbolic construct of materialist society’s madness, the stage adaptation spoon feeds the audience one of those scenarios a little too easily.

Nevertheless, this doesn’t detract one iota from the enjoyment, and I’m pleased to say Smith’s stage performance has beaten Bale’s on-screen portrayal of the American Psycho, and takes its place firmly as my favourite adaptation of the classic cult novel.

Even if you aren’t usually a fan of musicals, this is a throughly enjoyable two hours and forty minutes, aided by the fact it doesn’t feel like a classic musical in the slightest. I laughed, I cried, I got to tap my feet to Phil Collins. I loved it. Verdict 5/5.

Love and mayhem.

Veloboy x

American Psycho can be found at the Almeida Theatre, London N1 running until February 1. It’s sold out but contact box office for day tickets and returns at almeida.co.uk/020 7359 4404

* I’ve waited my entire life to use the word juxtaposition in print. Mission accomplished.

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