Let’s set the scene here: It’s 7pm on an early summers evening, I walk into St James theatre and am greeted warmly by the ladies at the reception desk and head to the pop-up bar to order myself a cocktail consisting of Woodpecker cider (a firm favourite of McQueen’s so I’m told), amaretto and vodka; a good start to the evening so far. I’m feeling rather elated and excited to see the play, especially after avoiding any current press and aiming to go in with an open mind.
So I finish my drink, walk towards the doors of the theatre, show my ticket and take my seat. I then look up and I’m suddenly taken aback. Amongst all the hustle and bustle of people settling into their seats, turning off their phones and sharing today’s news I see the actor Stephen Wight (McQueen) standing centre stage under dimmed lights in character. He’s looking lost, stressed and deep in thought and although he is surrounded by all these people seemingly here to observe and admire him he seems alone. This really resonated with me as from the offset you were subtly informed of McQueen’s state of mind, the inner turmoil Lee Alexander McQueen was probably feeling those few years ago. In his hands he holds his belt, wrapped tightly around his wrist.
This play is contemporary, combining dance, some beautiful string music and stunning design both in the clothing and the set. I’m quite a visual person and thought these elements really worked well together and being quite a small theatre and stage they really utilised the space well to create a lasting effect. To be honest I did think some of the dance was unnecessary and a bit overkill at times, though the use of dancers as mannequins at certain points throughout the play was a nice touch.
The concept of the play is this: For one night only you are taken into a dark dream world of McQueen’s. The setting is London and McQueen is in his Mayfair house when a young woman breaks in. She is lost, lonely and in search of the perfect McQueen dress to spend a night in to transform herself into something beautiful, something she believes she doesn’t currently possess. We are taken through scenes depicting areas of his life, from where he started refining his extraordinary cutting skills at Saville Row, to sitting in a chair at his mother’s house where he used to take her his creations to show her during (and to the end of) her terminal illness. He refers to his mother that “she was the best person I knew, not the best woman, the best person”.
It’s all rather touching, an emotional roller coaster where Stephen Wight and Tracy-Ann Oberman are most definitely the stars and really steal the show. Tracy-Ann Oberman plays an outstanding portrayal of Isabella Blow and there is one scene where it is just the two of them, McQueen and Blow, which share the stage together. He is talking to her about her death where she highlights how she felt abandoned by him when he went to work for Givenchy, “You weren’t what I wanted then” he says to her. They talk of how after attending his graduation show, Blow turned up at his mother’s house 11 days in a row just to meet this young man, to pluck him from obscurity and help start his journey to become the extraordinary designer we know today.
I won’t go much into Dianna Argon’s performance as Dahlia, the young woman who breaks into his house to steal a dress. To be honest, I don’t think her role was essential to what the play wanted to portray. To me her performance was very dull and stunted. It was almost as if she was a 12 year old, being forced to recite lines from a book in English Lit class, very flat with little to no feeling. If that was what she was aiming for, then she achieved it. Though I did think her performance improved towards the end of the show.
This is truly a play about a war with the self, about love, depression and a battle to survive the night. If you go in with an open heart and an open mind I feel you’ll be pleasantly surprised and don’t be put off by any negative reviews you might have already read. After all, if you’re a true McQueen fan you’ll be fully aware of his battle with critics when his career was in its early days.
There is one quote I’ll leave you with…..
Isabella Blow to Lee (Alexander) McQueen: “Your specialness will change the world”.
And that it did.
McQueen is on at St James Theatre, London until 27th June, 2015