McQueen, St James Theatre, London




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© Specular

Alexander McQueen, enfant terrible and one of the most revered fashion designers of his generation, committed suicide on February 11th, 2010. Currently, the V&A is holding a voluptuous retrospective of his work. Simultaneously, we now have McQueen the play running at St James Theatre.

How do you capture such a unique spirit onstage whose fashion collections variously shocked and delighted with their theatrical bravado and brilliance?

Directed by John Caird no less (Trevor Nunn’s one-time collaborator on Les Mis and Nicholas Nickelby), Caird brings a zappy surrealism to James Phillips’ bio drama that attempts a portrait through a complicated conjuration of a waif-like McQueen fan, Dahlia, and brief interludes with selected characters from his life: namely the head cutter from his first tailoring job in Savile Row, Mr Hitchock, a magazine interviewer and Isabella Blow, style icon in her own right, friend and mentor who also committed suicide.

Caird’s production, like many these days, includes movement plus music used by McQueen in his Collections. His use of mannequin models played by dancers whose classical training in ballet lends them a strange, robotic quality is particularly effective echoing as it does the fashion world and its catwalks. Unfortunately on the smallish St James’ stage, Christopher Marley’s accompanying choregraphy looks merely cramped whilst Phillips’ script of biographical detail, philosophical musings and McQueen and Dahlia’s `relationship’ produces a sometimes clunky narrative.

At its centre, however, is Stephen Wight’s McQueen. Bullet-headed, with small goatee beard constantly stroked, Wight creates a compulsive portrait of Lee, the complex, tortured Lewisham boy-made-good who became Givenchy’s head designer, British Designer of the Year, with his own branded company, Alexander McQueen.

What motivated him? What drove him? Phillips seeks to find explanations in McQueen’s search for beauty as an integral part of individual identity, his conversations with Dahlia and others a means of untangling that disturbed but talented psyche. On the whole, Phillips succeeds only lapsing into cliché as McQueen hurtles towards his fated end.

Wight, it is though, who carries the show. For those visiting the V&A exhibition, Alexander Mcqueen, it offers an extra insight into the mystery and beauty that was McQueen, the designer and the man.

First published in Reviewsgate, May 2015. McQueen ran at St James Theatre to June 27, 2015

NOW at Theatre Royal Haymarket: definitely worth catching.

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© Specular

Stephen Wight as Lee, Laura Rees as Arabella , and Carly Bawden as Dahlia

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© Specular

Joining Stephen Wight in the West End run are Carly Bawden in the role of Dahlia. The role was originated by Dianna Agron who is not participating in the transfer due to filming commitments. Reprising their roles as Isabella Blow and Arabella are Tracy-Ann Oberman and Laura Rees respectively. Michael Bertenshaw joins the cast as Mr Hitchcock. Also in the cast are Harry Alexander, Sophie Apollonia, Amber Doyle, George Hill, Eloise Hymas, Amelia Jackson, Rachel Louisa Maybank, Jessica Buckby and Andrei Teodor Iliescu.