Who was Alexander McQueen? It’s been five years since his death. Many events, included retrospective exhibitions, have taken place to commemorate the designer’s internationally acclaimed work as four-time winner of the ‘British Designer of the Year’ award. McQueen, a play dedicated to the fashion genius, has opened at St James Theatre with a fiery script by James Phillips with director John Caird.
McQueen suffered from depression, particularly towards the end of his life. Isabella Blow, the writer who discovered him as an MA student in Central St. Martins, committed suicide in 2007. A few years later, his mother died from cancer. On the day prior to his mother’s funeral Lee Alexander McQueen took his own life, which caused a shock wave in the fashion world. It isn’t hard to see how McQueen became an iconic and legendary figure to many, including those outside of fashion.
On Caird’s stage, we see McQueen brought to life through actor Stephen Wight. He’s almost a spitting image of him. Alone in his Mayfair workspace, Lee (as he is known in the play,) agonizes over a creative idea for his next collection, yet lacks inspiration when an odd, sarcastic and dark-humoured American girl called Dahlia (played by Glee star Dianna Agron) breaks in. She admits she wanted to steal one of his designs, specifically a dress. Curious and unsure on how Dahlia knows so much about him, having apparently watched him from a tree, Lee takes her on a personal, underground tour of his life as a tailor apprentice, fashion brand, clubber and creative genius.
Set designer David Farley bestows character onto the set with a kaleidoscope of scenery, which are hand-picked snippets of McQueen’s fashion shows including Atlantis (2010), Horn of Plenty (2009) and The Girl Who Lived in the Tree (2008.) An ensemble of contemporary, ballet dancers graciously move on stage as reminders of McQueen’s world-class fashion status. They unfurl into shapes like the glitterati, mannequins and catwalk models.
Moving video imagery, pulsating fashion songs that are sweetened by baroque music transfer McQueen and Dahlia to various places, from Saville Row, a party in the V & A, a lunchtime interview, his mother’s home and the summit of a tall building in Stratford. We meet his humble ex-boss Mr Hitchcock, played by David Shaw-Parker, cut-throat PR slash journalist Arabella, acted by Laura Rees, and Isabella Blow, played by Eastenders actress Tracy-Ann Oberman, who enters the stage on a white sofa with smoke and a pair of diamante platforms to match. Yet, it’s not the dreamlike journey that thrill the audience but the conversations McQueen has with the other characters. Philips’ script puts McQueen in a poetic space full of interesting utterances of what ‘beauty’ means to him. On his body he has the Shakespearean words, ‘Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind’ tattooed on his body. Here, Philips suggests that McQueen found fruit in understanding people.
For audiences not acquainted with McQueen they will feel the metaphors and similes overpowering yet, this was, in some way, how McQueen was. Even more touching is a scene where McQueen angrily shouts at ghostly Blow calling her ‘weak’ for committing suicide. This is where Caird crosses the boundaries and takes the risk of potentially disturbing the audience, yet there’s some words to reflect on including the question Blow poses to McQueen, ‘what do I need to do with the time I have left?’
Where some dialogue drag, others are executed well. There’s a decent cast to hold together Caird’s stage ideas. Wight gives a convincing performance of McQueen digging up distorted images of the fashion industry and nightmares that haunted the mastermind. Oberman, as Blow, lightens the mood with Blow’s affection for McQueen and harmless comedy. However, Agron makes Dahlia’s character hard to sympathize with. Although confident in her portrayal of McQueen’s alter ego, it’s hard to pin down her part in the narrative. McQueen fans will undoubtedly enjoy this play that pays homage to the artist. Yet for those who are not a fashion aficionado, they may not find out who McQueen was anyway.
Review by Mary Nguyen
McQueen The Play – Press Night
Robert Mackintosh, Amir Ltd, Hilary A. Williams, Deborah Negri and Julian Stoneman present McQueen – Written by James Phillips and Directed by John Caird
A beautiful and haunting voyage into the visionary imagination and dark dream world of the late Alexander McQueen, fashion’s greatest contemporary artist.
“I’ve got a 600-year-old elm tree in my garden. I made up a story: a girl lives in it and comes out of the darkness to meet a prince and becomes a queen.” Alexander McQueen, 2008.
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.
This is a moving, poetic and unmissable insight into the fairytale landscape of McQueen’s genius, as glimpsed at in his iconic fashion shows.
British actor Stephen Wight (Bluestone 42) will play the eponymous Alexander McQueen, alongside acclaimed Hollywood actress, Dianna Agron (Glee), in her London stage debut.
McQueen is a new play by James Phillips, directed by John Caird with production design by David Farley, choreography by Christopher Marney, video design by Timothy Bird, lighting design by David Howe, sound design by John Leonard and wigs design by Linda McKnight.
Stephen Wight Lee
Dianna Agron Dahlia
Tracy-Ann Oberman Isabella
Laura Rees Arabella
David Shaw-Parker Mr. Hitchcock
Sophie Apollonia Ensemble Dancer
Amber Doyle Ensemble Dancer (Dance Captain)
George Hill Ensemble Dancer
Eloise Hymas Twin & Ensemble Dancer
Jordan Kennedy Ensemble Dancer
Rachel Louisa Maybank Ensemble Dancer
James Revell Swing Ensemble Dancer
Carrie Willis Twin & Swing Ensemble Dancer
James Phillips Playwright
John Caird Director
David Farley Production Designer
Christopher Marney Choreographer
Timothy Bird Video Designer
David Howe Lighting Designer
John Leonard Sound Designer
Linda McKnight Wig Designer
Kate Waters Fight Director
Jayne Collins CDG Casting
Kate Plantin CDG Casting
Adam Maskell Casting
Emma Baggott Assistant Director
Lizzie Frankl Props Supervisor
Caroline Hannam Costume Supervisor
James Maciver Costume Supervisor
Lee Batty Production Manager
Spencer New Production Manager
Robert Mackintosh Producer
Amir Ltd Producer
Hilary A. Williams Producer
Deborah Negri Producer
Julian Stoneman Associates Executive Producer and General Manager
St James Theatre
Show Opened: 12th May 2015
Booking Until: 27th June 2015
Evenings: Monday to Saturday 7.30pm
Matinees: Thursday and Saturday 2.30pm
No under 16’s. Contains strong Language, adult themes and nudity.
Saturday 23rd May 2015