Review: American Psycho: The Musical at Almeida

Written by Ellie Kumar

Many people were sceptical that Bret Easton Ellis’ cult novel—a strong, satirical dose of violence, fashion, sex and capitalism, could be turned into a musical without losing its essenc

Many people were sceptical that Bret Easton Ellis’ cult novel—a strong, satirical dose of violence, fashion, sex and capitalism, could be turned into a musical without losing its essence. However the gamble pays off with a show that is slick, dark and threatening, saturated with pop culture and emptiness.

Matt Smith sheds his Doctor’s bow tie and tweed jacket to reveal the perfect eighties Hardbody and a fantastic singing voice as he steps into the Armani suits of Patrick Bateman, the charismatic killer who guides us through the drugs, dancing and music of 1980s New York.

Smith manages to combine the blank eyes and slow drawl of a character who is totally disassociated with his surroundings with raw emotions, flickering between terror, rage and empty frustration, which, coupled with the intimate theatre sucks the audience into his mind, uniting us with the man hacking his colleagues to pieces on the stage.

Significant differences

One of the main issues with any American Psycho adaption is that we are instantly removed from inside the twisted mind of the central character. It is the utter absorption into his hypnotic, neurotic self-obsession that forces the reader to believe in him and as an audience we see everything from an outside perspective, the reaction and emotions of other characters.

We are no longer Patrick Bateman—instead we are watching him, judging him. Instead of the adrenaline rush we feel swinging the axe, we are spectators to a scene that cannot really be happening, can it? We see a man so lost in his own delusion that fact and fiction have become interchangeable.

It’s fascinating, but it’s not as frightening when you don’t feel complicit to the violence. This is particularly where the 2000 film version falls down, a screen that becomes a barrier separating the audience from the actions. However, the musical manages to separate Bateman from the rest of the cast, through his monologues and vacant expression—he seems closer to the audience which helps us identify with the world he is creating.

Emotion with dark comedy

The minimal set design doesn’t distract from the spectacle while the moving scenery allows the actions to flow smoothly through the city, keeping the pace of the show fast, while the small but excellent cast with its multitude of costume changes and wigs, cause the characters to blend together and become as meaningless in the view of the audience as they are in Patrick Bateman’s mind.

The music itself, a combination of original songs by Duncan Sheik that skilfully bring elements of the novel to life and well known eighties pop that reflects Patrick’s own obsession with music was an unexpected high point.

The infamous rat scene was cut from the script, which, although a controversial highlight of the novel, was the right move for the show, as were the stylised and intelligent violent scenes, which avoided the temptation of unnecessary gore and shock tactics, instead opting for clever displays of lighting and sound so as not to bluntly reveal the answer to American Psycho’s central question – what is real?

A horrifying yet exciting drama bursting with moments of dark comedy and shocking emotion, American Psycho ‘the musical’ complements American Psycho ‘the novel’ perfectly, as well as being a stunning theatrical experience alone.

Whether you are a fan of the novel or looking for a new musical that moves away from the glossy, large scale productions you’ve seen a hundred times before then this is not one to miss.

American Psycho runs at the Almeida Theatre in London until 1 February. What do you think of this play? Let us know in the comments section below.