American Psycho

Book by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Music and Lyrics by Duncan Sheik, Based on the Novel by Brett Easton Ellis
Almeida Theatre, London

Matt Smith (Patrick Bateman) and Jonathan Bailey (Tim Price) Credit: Manuel Harlan
Matt Smith (Patrick Bateman) Credit: Manuel Harlan

The London stage suddenly finds itself awash with serial killers. In the last couple of weeks, when one might reasonably expect nothing scarier than ugly sisters, it has witnessed the arrival of two psychopaths and a vampire, guaranteeing a bumper year for the retailers of artificial blood.

Following Strangers on a Train and Let the Right One In, the latest arrival crosses the horror genre with 1980s bratpack movies, a medium whose existence is rarely remembered, let alone its demise mourned.

American Psycho comes with great credentials. It is based on a novel by cult writer Brett Easton Ellis, set to music (and lyrics) by Duncan Sheik, whose greatest moment was with Spring Awakening, one of the best musicals of recent years that inexplicably became a recession victim when it came to London.

Add in Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, who co-wrote the book for the most expensive (and popular) musical of all time, Spider-Man – Turn off the Dark and Headlong's consistently adventurous Rupert Goold, now in charge at the Almeida plus current Doctor Who, Matt Smith, and a hit seemed guaranteed.

Sadly, something went wrong with the heady mix and the result is likely to have as many naysayers as fans.

Smith is Patrick Bateman, a maladjusted Master of the Universe in the late 1980s who works as an investment banker and is obsessed with serial killers.

He and his coterie are interested in nothing but money and fashions, making this something of a shopping and slicing play, though sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll also play significant parts.

While the creators ironically zoom in on of the shallowness of Bateman, his girlfriend Susannah Fielding's Evelyn and everyone that they meet, ultimately rich, boring people do come across as rich and boring, even when they are behaving badly.

For most of the 2¾-hour running time, spoilt rich kids talk about their fantastic lives and how they are going to fritter away untold wealth, unaware that recession is just around the corner. In this company, Bateman's hobby, mass murder, at least adds a little colour.

Cassandra Compton plays the only sympathetic character, a mousy secretary who is inevitably in love with Bateman.

The drama is played out on a deliberately bland, white set, used as a background for spectacular projections of the kind usually featured in rock videos. Much of Lynne Page's choreography also hails from the same source and reveals wit as well as action.

Sheik's songs never quite achieve the heights of Spring Awakening, not helped by Smith's gravelly voice, which cannot compete with the tunefulness of the two female leads, as demonstrated when the trio joins together for "If We Get Married". He peaks with one of the borrowed hit songs of the period, Danzig's "Killer Wolf".

Rupert Goold is likely to bring a breath of fresh, exciting air to the Islington venue and his programming will be watched with great anticipation. Despite the starry names, when people look back to his early days, American Psycho is unlikely to be regarded as a highlight.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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