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Mark Shenton Previews McQueen in the West End
On stage the iconic late British fashion designer Alexander McQueen — who died in 2010, aged just 40 - was recently celebrated in an exhibition at London's Victoria and Albert Museum. It became the V&A’s most visited exhibition with 493,043 people seeing it in total during its 21-week run. For the final two weekends, the V&A opened the exhibition throughout the night for the first time in its history to accommodate unprecedented demand.
No wonder that a play premiered at the St James Theatre back in May has likewise gripped the public's attention, and is now transferring to the West End's Theatre Royal Haymarket. Written by James Phillips and directed by John Caird, the latter of whom continues to be represented in the West End by his co-direction of the West End's longest running musical of all time Les Miserables, it stars Stephen Wight in the title role, with Carly Bawden and Tracy-Ann Oberman also in the cast.
Phillips, whose other plays include The Rubinstein Kiss that was seen at Hampstead Theatre, explains, "Traditional biographical plays are not easy to do." So he found another, more imaginative approach to tell his life story: "I looked at clothes and fashion shows on YouTube, and got hooked into him as artist and the way I could write it as artist. So it became a fairy story set on one night." The play observes him taking a wild trip through London, visiting the places and people that have shaped him, looking for redemption, love and inspiration.
McQueen was known to his friends as Lee, and Wight said in a video interview with Whatsonstage, "It's a journey through Lee's subconscious and psyche and his past, and you touch on specific places, from West London to his roots in East London."
As part of his research, Wight visited the V&A exhibition, of course, and talks of the power of his work — "Whatever he had, it transcended fashion, it transcended garments…. It's a very unique role. The more I learnt about him, the more the responsibility grew and the more emotional it became for me to engage with this character. It's an honour to try to represent this great man that we sadly, sadly lost far too early."
In a review for The Independent of the run at the St James in May, Holly Williams suggests that he pulls it off: "It’s brilliant casting, not only because he looks uncannily like the designer, but also because he really digs deep into the role. He bursts into wicked, gleeful laughter and vicious rages alike; he is watchful and wry, then hums with visionary fervour when artistic inspiration strikes. And Wight puts enough soul into the tortured genius stuff to make us believe this man’s lofty idealism as well as seeing his vulnerabilities."
I will be reviewing it for LondonTheatre.co.uk when it opens in the West End on August 27.
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