American Psycho is a brilliant, innovative musical comedy about a murderous banker on the rampage in New York. Helmed by Rupert Goold, this is a show just cracking with energy. Yet at its heart is an elusive performance by its star attraction, Matt Smith.
Adapted from the cult novel by Bret Easton Ellis, American Psycho is the story of Patrick Bateman (Matt Smith), a 26 year old man (soon to be 27) working on Wall Street at the end of the 1980s, at its height of shallow materialism and greed. The pleasures of designer labels, exclusive clubs, drugs and Sony Walkmans are not lost on Patrick Bateman. But Bateman is also a psychopath.
So as his friends gossip about tasselled loafers, all Bateman can think about is decapitating them. Or crucifying them with a nail gun onto the wall of his expensive apartment, in a block he also shares with Tom Cruise. After putting an axe through their head.
So, just to clarify, this is a musical comedy! And that is the extraordinary achievement of this quite brilliant adaptation by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. There is a dark, dark humour in the book but there is also vicious, sadistic violence, pornography and graphic misogyny. From such source material, to create something so dark but witty, violent but musical is quite an achievement.
Inevitably the violence has been downplayed a little for the stage, but thankfully not too much. Characters from the book have been amalgamated and sub-plots streamlined, which works well in giving a framework for Bateman's degeneration into unstoppable violence.
And into the space created come the most brilliant score from Duncan Sheik and choreography from Lynne Page.
Music is such a crucial component of the original book and this is retained in a terrific soundtrack which combines some of the key tracks from the 1980s, tracks crucial to Patrick Bateman such as Huey Lewis and the News and Genesis, with witty, subversive original tracks. The result is a splendid mix of the nostalgic and the contemporary, which sums up this production perfectly. Yes this is set in the 1980s but let's be frank, we are still living in a material world.
But at the heart of this show is a performance from Matt Smith which for me, is out of step with both the book and the rest of the show. His Patrick Bateman is very sullen, almost inhibited for the whole three hour production. Nothing fires him up, nothing. Which is not how it is in the book.
When Bateman kills in the book, it brings him to life. The more savage his attacks, the more he feels the rush of energy in his veins, like the ultimate drug. In one chapter in the book, after he kills, Bateman explains how he runs down the street, high on exhilaration, with his coat blowing out behind him, like a cape, as if he's a superhero.
None of that energy, none of that contrast is brought out in Smith's depiction. His brutal murders don't lift him from his depression at all. It's a strangely subdued portrayal. Perhaps the intention was for Smith's Bateman to be cool, distant, austere. But for me, it doesn't work. Instead it almost becomes a drain on the energy of the show.
Nevertheless it would be a shame to let this disappointment detract from what it is a terrific and innovative adaptation of really tricky source material. Genuinely, I loved it. LOVED it. And that's coming from an ex-banker. Actually, not quite sure what that says about me.
Almedia Theatre, London
To February 1, 2014