It seems that the title of “The man of the year 2015” (at least in London) goes to Alexander McQueen, the designer who passed away 5 years ago! This year there are several exhibitions in town to celebrate his life work – his grand design exhibition at V&A and behind the scenes photography exhibition at Tate Britain. And now it is possible to meet the designer “in person” at St.James´ Theatre, where he gets personalised in the play “McQueen”.
The playwright James Phillips took the story of Alexander McQueen´s AW 2008/09 collection “The girl who lived in the tree” as the base for his play. “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. “McQueen” takes you on a journey for one night into the dark dream world of Alexander McQueen´s mind, the landscape of his immortal shows, where the right dress can change the wearer´s personality and the course of faith.
In the play there is also a girl – a young stalker, who has been sitting on a tree watching Lee McQueen work at his studio for eleven consecutive nights. This must be timed to take place in Autumn 2007. On the particular night the girl breaks in to the studio to steal a dress, but finds Lee there sitting in the dark, struggling with creative challenges and his mental health issues. Somehow, instead of calling the police, two of them embark on a journey around London town, to formidable places of Lee´s past, bonding and becoming friends in the process. They visit the shop on Savile Row where he gained his masterous pattern cutting skills. There he creates a dress for Dahlia on spot, draping it on her body. The pair ends up giving an interview to an annoying journalist, they pop into a nightclub and swirl all around town.They meet the ghost of Isabella Blow, who first “discovered” Lee McQueen and made him into Alexander. They go to Lee´s childhood home in Stratford and do some bird-watching(as Lee was famous for his love of ornithology, that reflected in his work) from the rooftop of a high council estate, while both battling with a question – to be or not to be. The girl turns out to be suicidal herself and Lee actually saves her from doing the fatal mistake – something he couldn´t save himself from eventually. Even though it is a bio-play, it does not turn Lee McQueen´s life inside out with dirty little secrets. Much of what we learn about Lee is seen through the eyes and actions of others. Filled with his artistic genius, as well as dark metal struggles, it also has a good dose of tonge-in-cheek humour. But also it shows how lonely and difficult a life of an artist can be, constantly criticized and misunderstood. And of course there is fashion. But not in a show-offy way, rather the haute couture just creeps in as part of everyday life.
Lee McQueen is played flawlessly by an award-winning actor Stephen Wight. The similarities between the actor and the passed designer in appearance and manners are remarkable! The young girl Dahlia is played by an American actress Dianna Agron, whose breakthrough role was playing Quinn Fabray on the hit series Glee. This role is her British stage debut. The character of the girl is loud and annoying – a typical teenager you might say. Someone who is so obsessed with her appearance, who looks for validation outside herself and wants to kill herself coz “life is too hard”. Could say her role brings the play down a bit. Luckily the performance of Stephen Wight´s character Lee is very deep, as well as flamboyant appearance of Isabella Blow.Talented dancers troupe, the costumes and extraordinary visuals add the necessary must-see effect. This play is something to see for anyone passionate about McQueen´s work, and who wants some back story on what made the designer “tick”.
The play runs nightly(except Sunday) till 27th June 2015.
This story was also published in Estonian web magazine Femme.