REVIEWER RATING: ★★★★★
The novel American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis is a tale that is becoming more relevant as our modern world progresses. The novel’s imagery and ideas are considered among the most dangerous in literature. So much so that the book is either sold covered in plastic shrink-wrap or banned from sale altogether. The 2000 film adaptation, starring Christian Bale in the titular role, brought Ellis’s tale of toxic masculinity, ritualistic capitalism and hedonistic self-satisfaction to a (slightly shocked) wider audience. Then came the musical – whilst soaring in London’s West End, the show didn’t fair quite as well for Broadway audiences, closing just after 54 performances.
In 2019 the Australian production premiered at the Hayes Theatre to rapturous reviews, and now returns to the Sydney Opera House to share its biting social commentary with a COVID-shaken audience, under the masterful control of its lead, Ben Gerrard.
Director Alexander Berlage’s production excavates the multiple facets of the musical’s source material, choosing to bring us into the mindset of its antagonist, Patrick Bateman. Pairing Berlage’s lighting design with Isabel Hudson’s set design is a genius choice from the production team, as the revolving, mirrored, neon-lit set becomes its own entity within the world of the show. Providing a multitude of characters that enter and exit Bateman’s mind at random, as well as procuring images that force you to hold your breath, it coerces the audience into questioning who Bateman believes himself to be. To say the least, the visuals are inspired.
Ben Gerrard’s Patrick Bateman doesn’t borrow from the more toned-down, scowling Christian Bale version. Instead, Gerrard plays Bateman with a sadistically camp, voyeuristic and licentious approach. The moments when Gerrard revels in the many gruesome manners of exterminating each of his victims brings the audience to a grinding pause. With Nicholas Walker’s sound design inflating the tension through the steady pace of a heartbeat, we feel quite literally in the firing line of Bateman’s spree. Gerrard delivers a performance that is unforgiving, narcissistic, and devoid of empathy; the masterful storytelling allowed the audience to view the ugliest side of capitalism that is on offer in theatre.
For those wanting a traditional musical, with a resonating score, this isn’t that show. For one, there is no band. What’s more, the production itself developed its own track that is as jarring as Bateman’s own mind. Music director Andrew Warboys plays with the cover songs from the period with a childish glee as they’re turned on their head to be heard as Bateman hears them. Meanwhile, the electronic-based melting pot of sounds creates a cohesive design that winds in and out of the show, either to reveal more about Bateman’s character, or advance the plot. With Worboys’s booming, synthetic soundscape erupting throughout the Playhouse, it was difficult at times to make out the quick fired lines of dialogue that came from Gerrard. The show’s most powerful moment actually came from pure silence and acting intent.
As with most modern musicals, the show is supported by a stellar ensemble that weave in, out and around the macabre tale. Shannon Dooley’s Evelyn Williams is enjoyably indulgent and over-the-top, it’s hard not to see the subtle reflection of influencers as they would have been in the 80’s coming through.
Angelique Cassimatis’s Jean is the most grounded and relatable character. She brings the audience into Bateman’s world through her honest and misplaced love, and showcases smooth, rich vocals.
The supporting cast members (Erin Clare, Amy Hack, Mark Hill, Kristina McNamara, Liam Nunan, Daniel Raso, Tom Sharah and Jason Winston) give committed performances throughout the production, as they change constantly in and out of Mason Browne’s exuberantly designed costumes to bring us characters you love to detest.
Yvette Lee’s choreography helps to create a superbly oiled ensemble-machine that melts with the stage’s revolve. Lee’s ability to bring allure, hedonism and bile to the cast’s movements is, again, in tune with the layered source material.
American Psycho: The Musical is a show well suited to an independent theatre company that is unafraid to take risks, show flesh and reflect the worst of society in its main characters. While it failed to make the desired mark on Broadway, in the masterful bloody hands of this production team, the material soars. A show for your frail grandma, this is not.
Photo credit: Daniel Boud
AMERICAN PSYCHO – THE MUSICAL: SEASON DETAILS
Dates: Playing now until 27 June 2021
Where: Playhouse, Sydney Opera House
Tickets: From $49.00 + booking fee