After American Idiot, the stage version of the Green Day album of the same name, broke new ground for rock musicals based around ready-made scores, American Psycho is another ground-breaker, both the bold London theatre that is premiering it and for musicals themselves.
It's an originally-scored musical that boldly enters the tortuous and tortured psyche of a young man - a 26-year-old Wall Street investment banker called Patrick Bateman working in mergers and acquisitions - as he embarks on an apparently deadly journey as a serial killer stalking Manhattan.
As it gets into the mind of its protagonist, the story worms itself into yours; and the addition of Duncan Sheik's alternately alienating and insinuating electronic-based pop songs accelerates its connections with insistently memorable beats that behave like ear-worms, loudly lodging themselves in your ears. It reminded me at times of the electronic pop score that the Pet Shop Boys provided for their own original musical Closer to Heaven. (Those songs are juxtaposed with bursts of pop songs like the Tears for Fears song Everybody Wants to Rule the World and The Human League's Don't You Want Me that are similarly arresting).
While the show was programmed under the auspices of the now departed Michael Attenborough as artistic director, it has turned out to the inaugural production of his subsequently appointed successor Rupert Goold. It is a thrilling marker for the future of this powerhouse theatre to continue doing bold, brilliant new work, and will hopefully encompass more musicals in the future than it has done in the past. (The theatre used to stage an annual contemporary opera festival, but it no longer does so).
The Almeida has also pulled off a serous coup in securing Matt Smith to play Bateman, in his first post-Doctor Who outing. That may have guaranteed an instant sell-out for the entire run, but he also owns the role entirely. Physically, he is perfection - regularly seen in only his underwear, he is both astonishingly buff and entirely smooth, a tribute to hard training, genetics and/or hair removal. He truly looks like a Master of the Universe. But he also inhabits the role with cold, penetrating intensity that is by turns spellbinding and creepy. He's not a sympathetic character at all, but you nevertheless become invested in him. And most surprising of all, he's a very capable singer, able to hold his own amongst a powerfully-voiced ensemble.
Goold's vivacious production is equally riveting to watch throughout, providing constantly visual engagement through exciting use of Finn Ross's video that is projected onto Es Devlin's white box designs. Smith is also surrounded by a stunning ensemble company that includes Jonathan Bailey, Hugh Skinner and Ben Aldridge as work colleagues, and Susannah Fielding, Gillian Kirkpatrick and Cassandra Compton as some of the women in his life.
Though the Almeida run is entirely sold out, there are day seats available, and a future transfer is surely on the cards.
"... this show about cold, superficial people strikes me as being cold and superficial itself. I was also disappointed by Matt Smith’s psycho ..."
Charles Spencer for The Telegraph
"... the all-singing-and-dancing company perform the piece with terrific attack ..."
Paul Taylor for The Independent
"... this is a show that confirms the mythic power of Easton Ellis's story and leaves us all dangerously entertained."
Michael Billington for The Guardian
"From the moment he [Matt Smith] enters – rising on a sunbed in nothing more than a pair of Calvin Klein smalls –it is impossible to miss him."
Quentin Letts for The Daily Mail
"... a superb performance by Matt Smith ..."
Henry Hitchings for The Evening Standard