You would think playing a murderous American yuppie with a rock-hard torso and a feather-soft grip on reality would be just the ticket for banishing the memory of loveable teatime alien The Doctor. But Matt Smith leaves surprisingly little impression as psychopathic stockbroker Patrick Bateman in this musical adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’s social satire ‘American Psycho’. And that is the brilliance of his performance.
Bateman is a hollow man, an identikit Wall Street hotshot, frequently mistaken for other Wall Street hotshots, who judges himself by the fractional material differences between him and his Wall Street hotshot peers. Bateman is on stage almost constantly in Rupert Goold’s production, yet Smith plays him as a strange void.
His monotone voice, impassive features and perfectly toned physique are a constant deadpan, and he sings with the flat tones of the New Romantics, whose soaring electro-pop Duncan Sheik’s score apes. Smith is constantly in the foreground, but though his natural charisma draws us in, the eye slides off him. We see why Bateman is losing his marbles: his perfect Manhattan life is a prison, his only escape is to (apparently) start butchering people.
‘American Psycho’ is enormous fun. Sheik’s songs vary in hummability, but they’re generally hilarious, characters with no soul singing trashy, narcissistic pop songs about their empty inner lives – a mischievous contrast to the faux profundity most musicals peddle (not least ‘Les Mis’, cheekily parodied here). Goold and set designer Es Devlin keep things fast paced and acid bright, their dazzlingly sterile Manhattan conjured by day-glo projections and props that cheekily pop out of the floor.
Above all, though, Goold, Sheik and scriptwriter Robert Aguirre-Sacasa have retooled ‘American Psycho’ as a comedy for our time. The violence is dialled right down compared to the book and even the film, and it’s made playfully apparent that after two decades of capitalist excess, we are all Patrick Bateman now. From his tedious opinions on music to his obsession with hipster food fads, moisturising and labels, he’s just a blog away from being, well, you, probably.
It’s a painful point, well made, but in many ways it’s an obvious point, and perhaps the biggest weakness of ‘American Psycho’ is that it pretty much shows its entire hand within the first half hour. For the next two hours it’s just a question of holding on for the ride – but what a deliciously mad rollercoaster this is.
By Andrzej Lukowski