Lee Alexander McQueen was a man who expressed drama through his work in fashion; indeed one of his collections was aptly named “McQueen’s Theatre of Cruelty.” Therefore when James Phillips took the somewhat daring task of transforming McQueen’s life into a piece of live drama, I was expecting something a bit darker and more grotesque.
Don’t get me wrong, the show dabbles in the grotesque, but is a traditional end on style of theatre the best way to represent what was happening in one of Britain’s most creative, yet incredibly tortured, minds? I do not think so. Yes, we had a few mannequin like bodies contorting here and there wearing a plethora of greyscale, but is this the best that director John Caird could muster? Perhaps it was, given Phillip’s somewhat text heavy book.
I kind of like the concept; McQueen is pacing his house wrapped up in an internal battle between creativity and giving into the lure of his brown belt (that he eventually used to hang himself) when a strange ghost like figure leads him on an adventure of self-discovery. The problem is that the writing isn’t strong enough to hold its suicidal, “we’re so f*cked up,” mantra. Instead of truly delving into the crux of depression, it produces the grating character of Dahlia who you kind of wish would just cheer up, without any real care as to why she of all people is so tortured. Similarly the texts portrayal of McQueen’s long-time friend and discoverer, Isabell Blow, is laughable and caricatured. Also – can we please ban white pleather and white satin from all theatre thus forth? It is the opposite of “high fashion” and looks rather cheap.
Redeeming feature? One BIG one. Steven Wight. Now HE is find. Contrasting from many of his previous roles, Wight’s McQueen is bold and both scared and fearless. Phew. Wight works his physicality and vocal cadence to truly capture the essence of the late fashion designer but how did he manage to get THAT look in his eye? Absolute wow.
In some ways I very much enjoyed McQueen but mainly because Wight somehow managed to make me believe in him. However I strongly feel that this was not the right play to run with. I found the book clunky and the traditional presentation an insult to McQueen’s boundless creativity. A few projections, some colour co-ordination, occasional funky lighting, moments of fleeting borrowed rock music and a second of slow-mo.
Someone come back to me with an immersive production with Wight in tow, filled with harpies, grotesque angels of death, omens, sea monsters and an actual catwalk to parade on. THEN we’ll be talking. After all; what would McQueen do?
McQueen is current running at the Theatre Royal Haymarket until the 7th November. Tickets can be found here.