When Alexander McQueen committed suicide during the heart of London Fashion Week, it crushed the industry and left the catwalks as more of a wake than a showcase. A prince had abandoned his craft, and questions were forever tailored with obscurity as to why such a talent could cease.
In honor of a man that prided his working class background, the V&A has brought his couture to touching distance in Savage Beauty, an exhibition celebrating his life and work. But away from the collections, it was his mindset that everyone really wanted projected. Call it a mind heist. A new play at St James’s theatre, simply titled McQueen, deals with the delicate issue, and very much blurs the beauty and darkness that Lee was forever entwined with.
Stephen Wight plays Lee, and for starters the physical likeness is uncanny. With an agitated and lost place on a darkened stage before it even officially begins you’re immediately given the impression that this won’t be theatrics, but a sense of ‘the real’.
Dianna Agron is the sugary sweet actress from Glee that takes on a darker persona. The couture fanatic (and thief) breaks into Lee’s studio, only to encounter the creator himself. Her demanding nature, potentially intoxicated state, and flirtation with life made her an obvious and unconventional companion for the night.
Together they dance and fall from a workshop to the underground to a hedonistic party, meeting some familiar faces on the way. Cue the one and only Isabella Blow, played by Tracy Ann Oberman. Her self-proclaimed decadence is instantly addictive. The silk gown, the everlasting cigarette, and of course the headwear is just a taste of her ways. Oh and of course the fact she’s a ghost.
Their reunion really gravels into the reasons behind Lee’s anguish, and also reveals the rawness of friendship: How it’s ugly, erratic, sometimes selfish, but ultimately real. Dianna’s role could almost be perceived as the future generation he left behind; the dialogue between the experienced and naive goes deep, but always in an accessible manner. It might be a bleak topic of suicide, but its ‘the unanswered’, and the effects we have on each other that really drives the play and its message.
There’s no need for a large cast for this play to be emphatic. Corpse like ballet dancers manoeuvre the props as the scenes change, literally even carrying the cast in dramatic fashion. Similar to Alexander McQueen’s catwalks, toying with technology is used on stage. Stephen Wight magically constructs a dress out of nothing before our eyes, and subtle projections mean that a trip on the London Underground or moment of reflection on top of a skyscraper is revealed in a split second.
McQueen is a play that will attract fashion enthusiasts but also fans of thrilling psychology. It tests you, hits a nerve in unexpected ways, and leaves you inspired under sad circumstances.