By Carly Fisher
Few shows of late have left me so divided in my opinion as last night’s opening of American Psycho. Stylistically, the show is a triumph for BB Arts and Two Doors Productions, in association with the Hayes Theatre Company, however the musical itself lets the overall show down– particularly the plot and melodies of the songs. The show itself and my distaste for it aside, the team behind the production have done an exceptional job of a not-so-great show, so lets focus on that.
To summarise the story for our musical theatre fans, consider a mix of Company – starring the perfect man that everybody loves – meets Heathers – with the slew of murders but less for revenge than for personal enjoyment. In American Psycho, Patrick Bateman is the handsome, wealthy 26/27 year old who seemingly has it all, except that nothing gives him satisfaction in the way that dismembering a body does. Flaunting his wealth at every opportunity and showing little regard for other humans, if not in the right hands, Bateman would be so unlikeable a character that the show may be impossible to watch. However, in the supremely capable hands of Benjamin Gerrard, we even feel some empathy towards a character who we can see is becoming increasingly psychopathic and is, from the beginning, extremely (and painfully) misogynistic.
Audiences will be familiar with Gerard from productions all around Sydney with Bell Shakespeare, the Old Fitz, the Ensemble and more, and, with his fantastic performance as Bateman added to this repertoire, he is absolutely a face to watch in this industry.
For a show that is so incredibly demeaning in its treatment of women – to the point of farce – it is the women in this cast who shine brightest. Erin Clare as Courtney Lawrence is, once again, fabulous. Her comedic timing is absolutely perfect and yet in the very next scene she can turn around and be so sultry and sexy – she engrosses you in every move she makes on stage. Also hilarious is Shannon Dooley as Evelyn Williams who couldn’t have been better cast for the role – she is simply perfect in this and hilarious in cameos throughout. Loren Hunter as Jean, Bateman’s secretary, is vocally, along with Clare, one of the stars of the show offering a softness both in character and in song delivery that was so needed as respite for the audience from the harshness of the rest of the music.
As a whole, this show had one of the strongest ensembles I have seen in some time. Blake Appelqvist as Paul Owen proved once again why he is the one to watch – when Appleqvist takes to the stage he has such a commanding presence, you can tell that both co-stars and audience alike take notice. He is charming and yet powerful in a way few performers can master and I hope that this young man goes far because I love watching him perform! Standing out amongst the men as well was Liam Nunan as Luis Caauthers whose light touch to his sexual advances on Patrick, which then of course grow in intensity, tell an important story in their own right and which Nunan handles delicately and perfectly.
Making this extremely well cast group shine was the supreme team comprised of Alexander Berlage, Yvette Lee and Andrew Worboys. Lee, as choreographer, brought something to the Hayes I don’t believe we have yet seen there. Edgy, commercial, sharp and extremely creative, the choreography was the highlight of the production and, at times where the plot and music lost me, it was the choreography alone and its perfect execution by this fit and well trained group that retained my engagement. Lee has, with Berlage, created something very unique and I LOVED the dance numbers and the enormous variety in what she offered.
Berlage marries his backgrounds in lighting and directing to deliver a show so in sink with its production elements, it sings. The direction of this show is, like Lee’s choreography, extremely conceptual and edgy with so much of the context left verbally unsaid and instead expressed in these amazing tableaus that Berlage has created. The show moves consistently and his usage of the T shaped revolving set was clever in that he managed to hide so much from us as an audience ready for a reveal. In particular, the final moment of the show was one I loved - what a brilliant use of set and space. Berlage is an exceptional talent and this show obviously allowed him to pour his immense creativity onto one enormous, rotating platter.
The design of the show is crisp, the highlight being the costumes by Mason Browne. Browne has incorporated SO many costumes into this show and each one is detailed immaculately, creatively bringing the quirkiness of Berlage’s vision and Lee’s movement into the outfit of each character, but also of each moment.
Isabel Hudson’s set initially excited me – this is a totally new use of the Hayes space and it was great to see a production push the boundaries of what a small black box theatre can be used for, incorporating a revolve and many mirrors to enlarge the space but simultaneously make us feel the emptiness of this world. That said, the revolve quickly became old, dizzying even, as it was completely, almost annoyingly, overused. Revolves are hard – to find the balance between, as I said, using them for the great reveals but also steadying them for long enough to not tire the audience of the constant rotation. It is a fine line that unfortunately this production well and truly crossed.
The truth is, this niche show will hold appeal within a particular realm of the Sydney audience and, whilst it is a shame that so many will miss the amazing work of the production team and cast, I can’t blame the audience either – the plot is not particularly interesting and the songs are not memorable. So, if you are looking for a show to see simply for a nice night out at the theatre, I can’t see this being for you. However, for anyone with an interest in choreography, lighting, costume or design, this is a masterclass and you must get a ticket.
A mixed review for a show that truly left me mixed – I hope to see every single one of these creatives and cast work again soon on a show that warms me in a way American Psycho just couldn’t.
Photo Credit: Clare Hawley
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.