Far from the cheerful crowds

Matt Smith (Patrick Bateman) and the company of American Psycho at the Almeida Theatre. Photographer Manuel Harlan

Matt Smith (Patrick Bateman) and the company of American Psycho at the Almeida Theatre. Photographer Manuel Harlan

LONDON, United Kingdom — Christmas is upon us: the shop windows twinkle invitingly with sequins and gold, the lights shine brightly in the streets, the sound of carols waft through the air as the pine trees glow with baubles and stars… but what of that other, long-established and, just as dear, far less comforting seasonal tradition? Amidst the love and the joy, the gifts and the comfort, those who look hard enough can find another Christmas staple, which is as time-honoured as it is uncomfortable: the ghost stories. We may no longer sit around the fire to tell each other terrifying tales of ghouls and witches, but for those who still wish to feel a frisson of fear and horror to offset the sugary treats – real or figurative – there is still plenty to sink one’s teeth in.

Let the Right One In - Rebecca Benson as Eli. Image courtesy of Manuel Harlan.

Let the Right One In – Rebecca Benson as Eli. Image courtesy of Manuel Harlan.

The London stage is, as usual, full of offerings for all tastes and ages: the Royal Court’s Let the Right One In is one of the new plays running in December for those who are happy to forget its glitter time out there. Based on the novel and film by John Ajvide Lindqvist, it is a tale of the friendship that blooms between awkward, bullied teenager Oskar and odd, mysterious Eli, the girl who has just moved in next-door with her father. The woods on the edge of the housing estate are suddenly the witness to unexplained murders, and to the encounters of the lonely boy and girl who gradually get to know and love each other. Yet, what is tender tale of coming of age has a much more sinister side: Eli has been a girl for a very long time, and she survives on blood. As Oskar comes under attack from some school bullies and Eli clearly does not share his scruples about not hurting them, even though they are hurting him, he in turn slowly takes on the role of protector to shield Eli from other humans.

Under John Tiffany’s direction, this tale takes on a poetic quality, enhanced by the falling snow and magical setting of Christine Jones’ set design. This is somewhat jarringly disrupted at times by the gore and blood of her true nature revealing itself more and more as the story progresses. Yet, the staging also underplays what is a scarier and much more haunting element to this adolescent love affair: as a boy and a girl meet and find a kindred spirit in each other, one of them will continue to grow up and change, while the other is forever stuck in time, immutable as the world changes around her. More than the horror of death, it is the violence of this inevitable growing apart, the foreshadowing of their future that makes Let the Right One In a disturbing tale.

 Matt Smith (Patrick Bateman) and the company of American Psycho at the Almeida Theatre. Photographer Manuel Harlan.

Matt Smith (Patrick Bateman) and the company of American Psycho at the Almeida Theatre. Photographer Manuel Harlan.

And disturbed – for rather different reasons – you will be if you go and watch American Psycho, now playing at the Almeida Theatre. With Matt Smith in the lead as Patrick Bateman and a strong supporting cast, this ‘musical thriller’ is definitely entertaining if not exactly seasonal: there may be a lot of red, but the protagonist’s reaction to his girlfriend’s Christmas party is to dream of an ‘ax-wielding Santa’, as he descends into an uncontrollable spiral of violence and murder. He is unnoticed by his friends and family, who are all too busy chasing after the must-have luxury item of the week and are desperate for a table at the latest hit restaurant to notice the psychopath unravelling in their midst. The choreography is excellent and 1980s hits are cleverly woven into the story, yet the musical device does not completely work: the show is at its most poignant – and frightening in its subversion of ‘normality’ – when the prose is given space over the musical tunes. Nonetheless, American Psycho is a very enjoyable evening for those happy to swap the glitter for the ghoul at Christmas.

Websites: www.almeida.co.uk and www.royalcourttheatre.com  |  Edited by: Elizabeth Deheza
Emma De Angelis About the author

A historian by training and editor by profession, reviews the glittering lights of the West End, unsuspected ballet classes in shabby Whitechapel and edgy shows in disused railway tunnels. With a PhD from LSE, she lives and breathes the London stage.

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