★★★ | McQueen
Fashion Designer Alexander McQueen committed suicide in February, 2010 at the age of 39. But his work and memory lives on, including in a new play simply called McQueen.
Stephen Wight plays (and looks just like) McQueen, who was one of the most celebrated UK fashion designers of our time. McQueen, though very successful, had a troubled life; drugs, depression, the suicide of his friend and muse Isabella Blow, who practically helped McQueen become the success that he was, and the death of his mother are some of the factors that probably led him to take his own life in his Central London flat on Feb. 11, 2010.
McQueen is written not as a play about his life but more about the journey McQueen took to build his career. The journey is brought on by fictional character Dahlia (Dianna Agron) – the idea taken from McQueen’s 2008 collection ‘The Girl Who Lived in the Tree.’ She’s basically a stalker who breaks into McQueen’s flat. He’s startled at first, but her childlike personality and beautiful looks and curvy body appeal to McQueen in a visual sense.
So McQueen and Dahlia travel through a few important milestones in McQueen’s life; the tailor shop where McQueen got his start and where, on the spot, he makes a dress for Dahlia. They go to his mother’s home, where she is upstairs in bed, sick. And McQueen gets to be reunited with the ghost that is Blow (a smashing Tracy-Ann Oberman), the woman who bought up all of McQueen’s first collection but who still wants to know why he didn’t take her with him to the top, and why did he leave her behind when it was she who made him what he was. In between these pit stops we are visually treated to very slow moving dancers who change the set and morph with, through and in between each other. Visually it’s stunning, you don’t realise the set is changing because the movements are so mesmerising. But this doesn’t make up for the fact that McQueen the play is a bit too thin and doesn’t provide the theatregoer with a true celebration and story of McQueen’s life.
Wight is amazing as McQueen. In fact, he looks exactly like McQueen did in his later years. Wight captures all of his mannerisms and idiosyncrasies, including the scene where he instantaneously creates a dress for Dahlia. It’s an excellent performance. Agron as Dahlia is given lots of soliloquy dialogue to recite – is she talking to McQueen, the audience, or to herself? And yes, she does recite, likes she’s reading from a teleprompter. Hers is not a great performance as she’s with the amazing Wright during the whole show. But Oberman practically steals the show from Wright in her all-too-brief turn as Bow. It’s a showstopping performance, with Oberman dressed in a sexy negligee. Playwright James Phillips and Director John Caird have produced a play that is weak in biography but beautiful in its presentation, but we’re still left wanting to know more about McQueen and his life and his fashions. We will have to do with the V&A Museum’s Savage Beauty exhibition as well as the highly-acclaimed book about McQueen; Alexander McQueen: Blood Beneath the Skin, by Andrew Wilson, as well as Gods and Kings: The Rise and Fall of Alexander McQueen and John Galliano, by Dana Thomas.
McQueen is playing at the St. James Theatre until June 27th: