STABBING, SHAGGING, SNIGGERING, BUT EVER SO STYLISH
What is this neon box rising from the floor, with Matt Smith inside it? Can it be the Tardis? Nope: a sunbed, and the former Dr Who has a cold unfamiliar stare in his deep-set ferret eyes and nothing on except for bulging white YSL knickers. He enumerates shower products as he shrugs on his immaculate suit. Around us in the auditorium the chorus croons “He is clean. A killing machine, he is so clean”.
It’s definitely a coup for Rupert Goold’s Almeida, co-producers Headlong and Act 4 Entertainment: a world premiere of Duncan Sheik’s musical from Bret Easton Ellis’ cultish novel about a 1980’s Wall Street trader. Suffering from an existential inner void (the author was 26, go figure) the hero Bateman wants to vanish into a crack in the urinal wall but alleviates it instead by murdering people, especially young women, chopping them up, chewing bits of them and pleasuring himself with the remains. The programme reminds us that the book was called “Numbingly boring, deeply and extremely disgusting” by one critic while another cooed “A careful, important novel”. Some deem it feminist, others a wallow of misogyny and homophobia. So the musical could be either a darkly clever (if dated) satire on 80’s materialism, or just a chance to show bloodstained female thighs while integrating cheesy soft-rock tracks nostalgic to people old enough to afford tickets.
It’s a bit of both. And since it stars Matt Smith as the anti-hero Bateman, it has pretty well sold out anyway. Rupert Goold directs in his most extreme flash-Harry mood, with Es Devlin’s designs and the Almeida’s best machinery. There’s pop-up furniture and taxi seats (at one point a pop-up Tom Cruise in aviators rises from the floor). Elegant double revolves bear disco ensemble choreography (by Lynne Page) freezing to jerkiness with Bateman stabbing and shagging in their midst. Brilliant projections evoke the chaos of the hero’s mind and memory, something which Matt Smith – encouraged to narrate and perform with a dead-eyed deadpan demeanour – has little chance to do for himself.
Obscene? Objectionable? Not really: less than the book itself, so jokey is the style. There is plenty of nervous sniggering in the stalls. I was least happy about the necrophiliac moment with the stabbed girl in the disco scene, and the later line “She annoyed me, so I crucified her with a nail-gun”. Whereas a friend who went on Wednesday says that she drew the line at the bit where Bateman sodomizes a giant stuffed pink rabbit with his girlfriend underneath it.
Some of the numbers are genuinely funny, especially the chorus of hair-flicking Carrie-Bradshaw socialites. Trouble is, it’s all style and very little substance. We have been shaking our heads over the Gordon Gekkos of the Wall Street boom for two decades, and fascination with serial killers is taste not all of us have acquired. The only recognizably human character, beautifully played by Cassandra Compton, is the secretary Jean. And most of the music, though beautifully rendered, is monotonous and unengaging.
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