IS IT a good idea to make an all-singing, all-dancing stage version of Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho?
We’ll find out when the musical opens at London’s Almeida Theatre in December. Despite admiring the book, though, I’m wary more than excited.
The film adaptation had a difficult birth. Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, Leonardo DiCaprio and Ewan McGregor were all set to play Patrick Batemen, Ellis’s Wall Street serial killer. David Cronenberg was supposed to direct, then Oliver Stone, before the job went to Mary Harron, director of Valerie Solanas biopic I Shot Andy Warhol.
This was largely because the material was so provocative. Some feminists famously condemned the novel when it came out, horrified by its relentless, dispassionate descriptions of violence against women. DiCaprio reportedly backed out after being lobbied by Gloria Steinem. But Harron and writer Guinevere Turner (who also wrote the lesbian comedy Go Fish) felt they could face down the inevitable criticisms. “We thought, we have a right to do this,” Harron said. “We dare anyone to come tell us we’re misogynists. We were probably the only people able to approach that with confidence.”
Can the same be said of the all-male team behind American Psycho: The Musical (director Rupert Goold, songwriter Duncan Sheik and writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa), even with their long, distinguished theatre CVs? There has, so far at least, been much less controversy than there was when the film was announced. Perhaps, in the wake of long debates over torture porn, objecting to the violence in American Psycho feels like an old fight. It may also be that the book is now so widely acknowledged as (in Harron’s words) “a satire of misogyny, and a crazy, dark, dark comedy” that concerns about its extreme imagery have been sidelined.
Harron may have contributed to this herself. It is, I suspect, partly because the film toned down the violence and nihilism and emphasised the humour that American Psycho is now more strongly associated with satire than pornographic bloodshed. There is a knockabout tone to the publicity for the stage show – T-shirts with lines from the book like “It’s, um, cranberry juice, cranapple.”
In some respects it makes perfect sense as a musical, given Bateman’s long monologues about Phil Collins and Huey Lewis. Still, a nihilistic, properly horrifying story about the moral vacuum at the heart of capitalism – and the way it turns women, in particular, into disposable commodities – is now being reinvented as the most commercial form of theatre, by men. Will the show prove capable of recognising and exploring the irony in this? «
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