Okay, I know how it sounds. And its exactly how it sounds. And its bloody brilliant, pun intended. Director Rupert Goold delivers a tour de force of yuppie disillusionment via the original novel written by Bret Easton Ellis (it should be noted that this play is not based on the 2000 film starring Christian Bale, though it makes references that will please fans).
Matt Smith, British newcomer of Doctor Who fame, takes the lead as Patrick Bateman, 26-year-old Wall Streeter and part time serial killer we can’t help but begrudgingly feel for. Set and costume designers and musical composer collaborated seamlessly to recreate New York circa 1989. The result was chilling and quietly spectacular.
Smith was riveting: from his first entrance, rising out of a trapdoor (naked but for a pair of tight white briefs), he is presented as a picture of rock hard, metrosexual beauty. And Smith’s Bateman is just that: hard. His carefully toned physique is a shell, an armor of vanity. As the deep performance evolves, continuously interwoven with direct address to his audience, Smith proves more vulnerable in a two-button suit and tie than he ever was naked.
To my mind, this was thanks to his grasp of stillness and silence, layered over neuroses that creates an ebb and flow in the action. Smith’s gift is his ability to listen to his fellow actors, lending them those specific character choices, supporting every interaction with consistency.
The cast and ensemble were delightful to watch and listen to. Each actor entirely committed to their personality; their role in the show was humor, and caricatures were created to give Smith something to bounce off. This is not to diminish Smith’s own comic talent: his timing and ad-libbing with the audience balanced the dark and tragic underpinnings of the play’s pathos.
I found the score somewhat lacking: Duncan Sheik’s mirror image of 80’s electro-pop was effective in summoning that decadent decade, but occasionally the original songs fell into ruts, too repetitive to remain evocative. Despite this, the performers rocked the style and the energy. Smith’s final song ‘This is Not an Exit’ (a direct quote from Ellis’ novel) carried a weight that matched its transcendence. One might liken it to ‘Being Alive from Sondheim’s Company, if that show had in fact tracked the development of a psychopath and not a mild-mannered New Yorker.
The visual designs and lighting/projections effectively captured both the indulgence and minimalism of Bateman’s world. The artistic team masterfully dealt with telling a massive American fable in a small space.
On the whole, Psycho was moving, deliciously layered, and terrifyingly close to the heart; an invigorating renewal of a disturbingly poignant tale. The point, you ask? Take a look at Patrick Bateman’s own words on the point of his narrative… “I was simply imitating reality, a rough resemblance of a human being, with only a dim corner of my mind functioning”. Whether that’s a reflection on our own interactions with society or not is entirely up to the audience…