As London bedecks itself in Christmas lights and the Americans among us recover from all that Thanksgiving turkey, the cast and crew of American Psycho are preparing for opening night. Yesterday was the last day of rehearsals, an exciting, but terrifying, milestone. Today we are moving into the theatre, where we will see for the first time how all of the creative elements we have been imagining actually come together in the space.
Temporary props are being replaced with the real thing, costumes are being fitted, revolve and lift cues are being finessed. Matt Smith, for one, cannot wait to get his hands on his weapons arsenal and Rupert Goold is excited to hear the full score blasted through our state-of-the-art sound system. I, for one, am ready to upgrade to the Almeida’s gorgeous auditorium… with central heating.
We have spent rehearsals finding the shape and voice of this musical, guided first by our composer Duncan Sheik, then by our writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and at all times by our director Rupert Goold. We have explored the piece technically and dramaturgically, always returning to Rupert’s three steps to developing a new musical: form, tone and characterisation. We have questioned and cajoled and shaken and chewed up and spat out this story until it lives within us and we within it.
The biggest question still in our minds is how to achieve the right balance of style and substance. Rupert has said he has always imagined the piece looking and sounding like a Depeche Mode interpretation of the intense organ chords that open The Hunchback of Notre Dame. It is a difficult task to know whether we have achieved this until we are actually in the theatre and can see how all of the pieces of our insane puzzle fit together. But the last week of rehearsals involved a series of full run-throughs, which were revelatory, and we are all ready and anxious for the final step in our process: putting the piece in front of an audience.
This is especially important for a play like this, which is so dependent on a close relationship between its protagonist and his audience. How that relationship develops and how that development impacts the piece as a whole, will be discovered anew each night. Previews will help give us a sense of what connects best with the audience, while allowing us the opportunity to make alterations – some small, some much more significant.
For instance, the creative team has prepared a few slightly different versions of the opening sequence, as a way of testing out how best to introduce an audience to our world. Do we begin with the iconic Patrick Bateman or the excessive, materialistic, apathetic society that spawned him? And once we do introduce Patrick, which of the multiple facets of his character do we lead with? He is a chameleon, a wolf in sheep’s (designer) clothing and the attempt to reconcile his disguise with his true self is at the very heart of this story. Do we open with the disguise or the naked truth beneath it? Do we first reveal his charm, his humour, his undeniable appeal until the audience cannot help but relate to or even admire him … and then confront them with the dark reality of his nighttime exploits? Or do we meet Patrick as he truly is, an unfeeling violent monster, and then shock the audience with how quickly and easily he is able to assume the mask of a perfectly adjusted member of society?
You can see from the photos above how the opening scene has shifted during the three years of this project’s development and during the seven weeks of our rehearsal process. The deeper we have delved and the more we have excavated of this piece, the more subtle and detailed have been the revisions. This upcoming week of tech will no doubt answer some questions and expose others. Which version we’ll present on Press Night is a secret yet to be revealed...
Whatever we decide, I know it will be unlike anything seen before on the Almeida stage.