James Phillips’ play about fashion designer Alexander McQueen transfers to the Theatre Royal Haymarket following a sell-out run off West End at the St James Theatre earlier in the year, with Stephen Wight reprising his role as McQueen.
Quite fittingly, McQueen is a feast for the eyes and an absolute triumph of design and choreography thanks to the stunning work of production designer David Farley, choreographer Christopher Marney, director John Caird and an ensemble of striking and hugely accomplished dancers. Even the simple act of getting furniture and props on and off stage is made a thing of entrancing beauty and no movement or small detail not crafted to perfection. If this were a contemporary dance production it would be a masterpiece.
But the ravishing tableaux created by the dancers are only part of the story and it’s the words in between that for me didn’t always work – often becoming pretentious and self absorbed just when you thought things were getting interesting.
The fragile and volatile McQueen is alone in his studio struggling to find ideas for a new collection and is grieving in the wake of the suicide of his mentor Isabella Blow when he is visited by the mysterious Dahlia, played by Carly Bawden. She has clearly been watching McQueen from a nearby tree for quite a while. But is she a stalker with dangerous intent, a ghost as McQueen at first thinks or, as she claims, just an admirer wanting him to make her a dress? The early exchanges between the two promise much being both witty and intelligent, but any intrigue isn’t sustained and the self-analysis and meaning of life pontificating becomes a little wearing after a while.
There are, however, some engaging moments; McQueen’s change of mood when an idea finally strikes him, a visit to the tailors where he learnt his craft and a nicely played encounter with Isabella. And the scene where McQueen talks to Dahlia about his sick mother is genuinely moving.
Performances from the two leads are excellent with Wight, who bears a striking resemblance to his character, making McQueen a person for whom we genuinely feel sympathy despite the outbursts. Carly Bawden is by turns feisty and vulnerable as Dahlia and super support comes from Tracy Ann Oberman as Isabella.
McQueen certainly has its moments and is a telling portrait of a tormented artist. But while it’s wonderful to look at, it’s ultimately a bit uneven to fully hold the attention throughout.
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