BWW REVIEW: The Superficiality Of The 80's Sees A Sinister Side Surface In The Thrilling Musical Adaptation of AMERICAN PSYCHO
Thursday 16th May 2019, 7:30pm, Hayes Theatre
Led by a deliciously sinister Benjamin Gerrard, Alexander Berlage's (Director & Lighting Design) AMERICAN PSYCHO is a perfectly polished presentation of Roberto Aguirre-Sarcasa (Book) and Duncan Sheik (Music and Lyrics) musical adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis' novel. The horror story that caused controversy when first published in 1991 and received the cinema treatment in 2000 is presented with a brilliant black humor and a captivating perpetual motion.
The male Investment Banker has traditionally been a particularly obnoxious breed of puffed up competitive narcissistic man and AMERICAN PSYCHO's protagonist Patrick Bateman (Benjamin Gerrard) is a perfect example. The 26-year-old image obsessed New Yorker is well and truly seduced by the capitalism of the 1980's where everything is a commodity that can be bought, sold or simply disposed of when it is no longer required. Labels and looks rank highly along with scoring the biggest accounts on Wall Street and being seen at the most exclusive restaurants but despite the gorgeous girlfriend and the wardrobe full of designer suits, Patrick isn't happy that someone else has more than he has. Like a petulant child that has discovered the kid next door has a new toy, Patrick hates that Paul Owen (Blake Appelqvist) is working on a bigger account, can get a table at a moment's notice at the newest hottest restaurant and has a better business card than he does. Adding salt to the wound, Paul can't even get Patrick's name right, mistaking him for another colleague so he sets a plan to lure him into his circle of 'friends'. The audience witnesses the world from Patrick's view, following him from work where his dutiful assistant Jean puts up with his misogynistic insults, to cocaine fueled nights out with the boys from work, and parties with his superficial socialite girlfriend Evelyn (Shannon Dooley) but they soon see that whilst his exterior is smooth and suave, he harbours a sinister side.
Berlage has devised another striking production which, as with his earlier work THERE WILL BE A CLIMAX, he has set on a large revolve to give the piece a perpetual motion. Set designer Isabel Hudson provides a raised box stage to house the revolve. The central circle is divided by mirrored thick walls edged with strip lighting and a plastic curtain distorts the "world" to the rear of the stage. A minimum of set dressing is used to transform the segments of the stage into Patrick's apartment, his Wall Street office, nightclubs and other locations. Mason Browne's costume design is fabulously camp as he shifts the ensemble from corporate suits to expressions of sleek restaurant hosts, club entertainers and overindulgent socialites in a world where women were seen as sex objects and appearance was more important that reality. The near perpetual motion of the revolve and Yvette Lee's choreography gives the impression of a man constantly moving, as he propels the story as he walks and talks. Given the level of synthesized sound, musical director Andrew Worboys deviates from Hayes Theatre's normal practice of live band with pre-recorded tracks supporting the live vocals. There are however a few sound balance issues as Nick Walker's sound design tends to drown out lyrics of the female characters.
Patrick Bateman's dark twisted character is a perfect vehicle for Benjamin Gerrard. He exudes Patrick's confidence that he's better than his buddies, further highlighting the effect that Paul has on him. He ensures that Sheik's text is clear and his dialogue captures the distorted mindset while his facial responses are brilliant. Shannon Dooley delivers the right degree of caricature for the shallow, spoilt brat of a WASP as girlfriend Evelyn and her turn as aerobics instructor draws on her own background to deliver a highly comical but authentic expression of the fitness gurus of the day. Erin Clare's fabulous comic timing and ability to deliver a sultry seduction with a comedic twist is on show again as Evelyn's best friend Courtney. Blake Applelqvist ensures that Paul Owen has a degree of suave confidence that makes sure that he is seen as more 'powerful' than Patrick. Liam Nunan's Luis, Courtney's closeted boyfriend, is fabulously overt whilst ensuring that it is clear that at the time, he knew that his true self would need to be kept secret. As Patrick's assistant Jean, Loren Hunter's beautiful pure 'innocent' tone is used to full advantage as she presents the only character free from the obsessive superficiality in Patrick's world.
The ensemble pieces, which include all but Gerrard who retains the only constant character, are delivered with a precision and fluidity that is carefully choreographed with the moving stage including scenes changing in the brief time a segment of stage is blocked from view of the audience. The mirrored walls are also used to great effect throughout, reflecting the characters and the audience as we are asked to reflect on Patrick's true self and our own inner thoughts.
Whilst a little more blood was expected from AMERICAN PSYCHO, the amount that is presented is safely separated from the audience and overall this is a captivating comical work that calls on the audience to delve into both Patrick's mind and our own as we work out what we will tolerate and what we might do with that which we don't like. Whilst listed as a thriller, the presentation ensures that emotions are heightened but not so far as to put off viewers not usually keen on the genre.