Your knee-jerk reaction to taking your seat at the Theatre Royal Haymarket to view ‘McQueen’ is that you feel uneasy. Our protagonist, artfully depicted by actor Stephen Wight, is pacing up and down the darkened stage before Act One even begins, wringing his hands and rubbing his head. He is troubled and tortured before we’ve even got stuck in – the accompanying techno music blasting around the auditorium is a strange introduction, but perhaps represents McQueen’s racing emotions. The tracks throughout the production were all used in the late designer’s actual catwalk shows, an insightful artistic choice – everything ranging from Mozart to Bjork to Frankie Goes To Hollywood takes us on a journey.
The premise of the onstage biopic is that a young girl who has been stalking McQueen from the viewpoint of a tree outside his workshop, breaks into the said workshop, and, flighty and charismatic in her ways, demands a dress. The series of events that unfolds sees an unlikely friendship being struck up between the pair, and McQueen takes her on a tour of London – taking her to his first tailor on Savile Row, then on to a club, an interview, his home in Stratford. The pair begin to get to know and understand one another, and once they peel away the emotional layers, realise why they’ve both come to meet on this fateful night…
The first act unfolds with freakishly tall and McQueen-esque models and dancers performing to Vitamin String Quartet: ‘Come As You Are,’ the choreography bizarre yet engaging – almost Fosse in its inward movements and exaggerated dynamic. The dancers are clearly a vehicle to represent McQueen’s thought processes and ideas – wonderfully visual, both hauntingly beautiful and yet also macabre. They appear throughout, every time the designer happens to have a rush of genius thought or a lightbulb-moment idea, for which he was undoubtedly famed.
Isabella Blow is portrayed by the enigmatic Tracy-Ann Oberman, who appears to McQueen in the form of a spectre. The eccentric Blow, who bought out Lee’s entire graduate collection from Central Saint Martin’s and who encouraged him to change his brand name from Lee to Alexander, allegedly had fallen out with McQueen at the time of his death. Some attribute this factor as a contributing reason toward his demise, coupled with the death of his beloved mother from cancer; McQueen passed on the night before her funeral.
Rugged, brooding and insanely brilliant, Stephen Wight does a stellar job at depicting Alexander – real name Lee – McQueen, and offers us as an audience an essence of who he was, as opposed to a direct imitation. Playing alongside him is the engaging Carly Bawden, who does a truly marvellous job at facilitating the character of McQueen throughout this fictional tale. She is bright and truthful, with lots of stage presence, and when the moment comes when we understand what her true intentions are, the inevitable switch in persona is seamless.
I was gripped until the final curtain, which essentially depicts the curtain in McQueen’s own life – a ‘tortured genius’ who battled with anxiety and manic depression, and whose demons ultimately proved too heavy for him to bear.
Review by Louise Amelia Czupich
A beautiful and haunting voyage into the visionary imagination and dark dream world of the late Alexander McQueen, fashion’s greatest contemporary artist. A mysterious girl has been hiding in a tree in McQueen’s Mayfair garden for the past eleven nights, secretly watching him as he struggles to find inspiration for his new collection. Tonight she climbs down and breaks into his house to steal a dress she could never afford to buy, in the hope of becoming someone special. He catches her, but instead of calling the police, he takes a chance and lets her stay. Together, they go out onto the streets of London and into the whirlwind of McQueen’s life. As the girl begins to unravel before him, it becomes clear that she needs more than her dream dress to see her through the night. With its beauty, the world invites us all to live another day, and with each other, two troubled souls may just find the comfort they so desperately crave. McQueen will take you on a beautiful and haunting voyage into the visionary imagination and dark dream world of the late Alexander McQueen, fashion’s greatest contemporary artist.
Evenings: Monday to Saturday 7.30pm
Matinees: Thursday and Saturday 2.30pm
Theatre Royal Haymarket