McQueen Haymarket Theatre 2015

Our critics rating: 
Friday, 28 August, 2015
Review by: 
Mark Shenton

After the sell-out summer run of the Victoria and Albert Museum's McQueen exhibition — seen by nearly half a million people and with opening hours extended through the night for the final weekends to accommodate the demand — there's clearly a huge public appetite and interest in the work of the late British fashion designer Alexander McQueen, who killed himself five years ago on the eve of his mother's funeral.

But at least at the V&A you got a first-hand experience of his art; in James Phillips's bitty play, first seen at the St James and now transferred to the Haymarket, you get an imagined encounter with the man, his friendships and his internal preoccupations and demons that fuelled his creativity.

Some of it is stylishly done — there's a lot of choreography for living mannequins and models that's like a fashion show come to life — but the play in-between it is both thin and lethargic. Perhaps the latter feeling is intentional, conveying the deadly drag of depression in which a life lived fast — as McQueen did — slows down to a crawl. (I sometimes think that depression, as I have experienced it with some regularity, is like wading through treacle; you can't get your feet out of the sticky stuff, and it weighs you down).

But as much as this play is about depression and trying (and eventually failing) to survive it — McQueen was dead at his own hand at the age of just 40, and suicide also claimed the life of his friend and benefactor Isabella Blow three years earlier — it is also about the art of fashion. The latter is showy, of course, but shallow, and the two worlds collide here as McQueen finds an intruder/stalker at his home, there to steal a dress that she can kill herself while wearing.

Instead he tries to save her, by taking her on a journey with him through a dark night of his soul — it's all very metaphorical, as he's really trying to save himself. At one point he asks Isabella Blow, "Am I going to make it Issy?" She replies, "You already know the answer to that question."

So, of course, do we, which drains the piece of dramatic tension. There are some compensating pleasures, not least the vividly inhabited performance of Stephen Wight in the title role, and good support from Tracy-Ann Oberman as Blow and Carly Bawden as the intruder/alter ego Dahlia. The centrepiece cloak of golden feathers that represents McQueen's work is also neatly reflected by the gold leaf surrounds of the Haymarket's proscenium arch.

But John Caird's production, for all its extravagant dressing in every sense, reveals a hollow play underneath.

Read our review from May 2015 of McQueen

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