Dreaming of Vivisection – American Psycho review

08.06.21

American Psycho: The Musical. Photo by Daniel Boud.

Leave your sanity at the door and enter a world run rampant with killer fashion and fashionable killers…

American Psycho: The Musical is a darkly satirical piece filled with finely tailored suits and witty one-liners sharper than a knife. Directed by Alexander Berlage, this cult classic takes what we know from Bret Easton Ellis’s novel and Mary Harron’s film of the same name, and takes it to a new level of heightened reality.

Set in a narcissistic, consumerist-driven Wall Street, we find ourselves thrust into the world of Patrick Bateman, a psychopathic businessman whose grip on reality shatters as his homicidal desires escalate. Through the jarring use of light and sound, we are invited into Bateman’s fantasies and encouraged to accept the bizarre and at times overly camp depictions. The show’s staging is a perfect reflection of Bateman’s dizzying reality with spinning mirror-walls mimicking the spiralling of Bateman’s sanity.

It must be said that the show’s standout is its Bateman. Ben Gerrard plays Bateman in a manner that is so deeply unnerving, one cannot look away! His gaze sharp and his words even more so, Gerrard slips into this role the way the Wall Street men in this show slide into their tailor-made suits.

Backed by a vibrant cast with outstanding comedic timing, we really do see a hedonistic upper class so absorbed with status and wealth that they don’t recognise who they are speaking to most of the time.

American Psycho: The Musical. Photo by Daniel Boud.

Though the production was dynamic, I do wish that the show itself was written as a jukebox musical, as the jumping between original songs and pop classics leaves little lasting impression. If the show had stayed on the pop classic track I do believe it would have made a more effective contrast to the show’s dark themes. That being said, the real shock and delight that ties the story together is what happens when we step outside of Bateman’s highly saturated delusions. The show’s climax leaves an audience holding its breath with suspense in a manner reminiscent of the film but altogether completely unlike it at all.

American Psycho: The Musical takes an eerie look into a world of business card wars and blood-splattered murder, asking us to examine the darkest parts of not only ourselves but of our society. A show certainly guaranteed to shock and thrill the senses!

Bridget Gielissen, 24

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You can’t deny that director Alexander Berlage’s American Psycho: The Musical makes big choices.

Based on the novel of the same name, minus the words “The Musical” of course, and more famously the 2000 film starring Christian Bale, American Psycho: The Musical has the difficult task of adapting the Taxi Driver-esque character study source material into a funny and popular production with enough catchy musical numbers to fill an album. Does it succeed?

American Psycho: The Musical. Photo by Daniel Boud.

Stepping into the Playhouse at the Sydney Opera House, I was first taken by the incredible set design, courtesy of Isabel Hudson. The wings of the stage are draped in strips of plastic, flapping like an empty meat locker. The set itself is reflective and metallic, with a revolve at its centre, which is used effectively throughout the 100-minute run-time. I remarked to my viewing partner that the stage looked like a murderous microwave. She didn’t laugh. 

Ben Gerrard’s Patrick Bateman in American Psycho: The Musical is a very different Patrick Bateman to the one seen in the 2000 film. Less charm, more awkward. Which is not necessarily a criticism, but, quite coincidentally, a very helpful allegory to my real major criticism with the production.

Towards the middle of American Psycho: The Musical, Bateman reveals that he’s been dreaming about vivisection, a form of experimentation using living organisms, often animals. 

When you read, American Psycho (and by read, I mean watch the film, but I still call it reading because, as Band 6 English teaches you, all films are texts, and if you don’t like it, get ATYP to publish your review) it’s clear that the world Bateman inhabits is not objective. The piece is a character study. So what does that mean?

American Psycho: The Musical. Photo by Daniel Boud.

American Psycho: The Musical is wickedly funny, with inventive choreography from Yvette Lee. However, the translation from character study to musical leads to a lack of perspective and nuisance in its characterisation. For example, Evelyn, Bateman’s partner, played, albeit hilariously, by Shannon Dooley, becomes a simple, nagging life-sized Barbie Doll archetype. Angelique Cassimatis’ Jean, who is the standout performance in the ensemble, is simply written as Bateman’s secretary with a school-girl crush. And this dumbing down of nuanced characterisation leaves all the characters as easily identifiable archetypes. Making American Psycho: The Musical’s sinful romp through 90’s New York less hip and more square.

Nick Walker and James Wallis should be applauded for the scintillating design of both Sound and Lighting, respectively. However, a fundamental misidentity leaves American Psycho: The Musical lacklustre. Saying that, other productions of American Psycho: The Musical have been hugely successful internationally and critically acclaimed, so what do I know?

Alan Fang, 21

American Psycho is playing at the Sydney Opera House until June 27. Book your tickets here.

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