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American Psycho: A New Musical Thriller

January 29, 2014

(Seen at the afternoon performance on 11th January 2014).

For me, the atmosphere was set just walking from Highbury and Islington station to the theatre. Knowing the area well from my student days nearly 20 years ago, I reflected that back then wearing “Marks & Spencer” jeans made me a wealthy target. Now, I wasn’t even close to the local sartorial standards. Gone are the dusty local and charity shops, the whole area now exudes the very wealth Patrick Bateman and his ilk created almost overnight in the 80s.

Creative use of projections and the austere styles of the time give the production the right visual look on an Off-West End budget. Sure, a glaring anachronism of a “flat screen” TV loses the designer points (as does incorrectly numbering the theatre seats in the ‘Les Misérables’ segment), but the cast do at least get an interesting playing environment.

What they don’t get is an even and compelling book to play. Like the novel on which it is based, the show careens wildly from compelling through self-indulgent to plain dull. The score is a blend of new writing and 80s classics, the classics mostly showing just how the rest should sound, and occasionally being responsible for slowing the action – as if the writers had lost faith in themselves and added the numbers at the last moment to cover a perceived error.

Fortunately, most of the cast manage to overcome the changes in speed and style simply by being as credible as they could. For someone who remembers these self styled “masters of the universe” the likes of Craig McDermott, Tim Price (Jonathan Bailey, Charlie Anson) were an accurate memory, Simon Gregor’s Detective Kimball a solid grounding contrast and Susannah Fielding’s Evelyn Williams a reminder of the ladies (and just how versatile this performer is – last seen in the Noel Coward ‘Dream’ in November).

I’m afraid I do rather suspect that this show got incredibly lucky in having Matt Smith’s presence. I’d booked literally an hour before he was announced, and, as a fan of his Dr Who (well, actually more a fan of Clara, but anyway), was rather pleased to see what he could do. Annoyingly, the answer was, perhaps, ‘not enough.’ Bateman is as sharp as the edges of his business card. A fanatic for detail, it’s his absolute single-mindedness that keeps his life moving in whatever direction. Smith’s style is looser, and on occasion simply too relaxed for a 1980s “Master of the Universe” (to borrow from the other classic of the period). Smith just about got by on his vocals, to his credit, but it would have been interesting to see how an established West End musical man might have done it.

There’s talk of this moving into the West End at some point. It would need scaling up if so – larger cast and a greater sense of brash entitlement oozing from the stage. Also, it’s a really hard sell for the typical West End theatregoer seeking a light evening out. This manages to be sanitised enough that there’s no nudity or “eye-covering” gory moments, but neither does it have the mass appeal a big musical needs, I felt. It’s an interesting and well-done curiosity, but is it “state of the art” – whichever way up you hang it?

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