An invitation to a gala performance of James Phillips’s play McQueen that transferred from the St. James’s to the Haymarket Theatre the other night in the company of Mrs T. As per, we tore a crab claw at Sheekey’s Oyster Bar before curtain-up and hot-footed it to the Haymarket. I had deliberately not seen the play previously because I do feel ambivalent about fictionalised portraits of people not long dead who can’t contradict the playwright.
How to describe the fellow guests? Imagine the cast of Made in Chelsea two divorces in, after a couple of face-lifts, a bag o’ Botox and much bitter experience. Stir to taste with leather-and-lace evening gowns, high hair, Judith Lieber sparkly clutch bags and Louboutin high-heeled gladiator fuck-me sandals. And that was just the men…
Mrs T and I got the titters but soon calmed down when we took our seats and saw Stephen Wight’s Alexander McQueen pacing the stage holding a leather belt. Having met McQueen several times (as did everyone else in London fashion of decades past), it was quite unnerving to see such an eerily accurate doppelgänger of the late designer. He had the voice and the mannerisms to a tee.
The first disappointment was the opening ballet danced by mannequin-esque dancers with heads bandaged in an echo of McQueen shows past. The absence of sex, aggression or extreme pain for beauty – all obsessions of McQueen – was noted. After all the balletics the story – a final journey towards the suicidal oblivion that snuffed-out one of British fashion’s greatest talents – was set-up.
Stop me when your credibility runs out. A female self-harming American stalker breaks into McQueen’s home hoping to steal a dress in which to commit suicide. McQueen discovers her and, rather than fleeing to a panic room, engages the not-very-engaging, whiny-voiced Dahlia in conversation about the nature of life, art, beauty and death before disappearing into the night with her. And the band played believe it if you will.
Mrs T and I were nudging elbows and rolling eyes every time Dahlia opened her mouth. McQueen wouldn’t have had anything to do with such a ’basic bitch’ as Kate Moss would classify her. Even the thought that she could break his creative impasse and inspire the next collection was laughable as was the moment of creative genius when McQueen made a black puffball dress on Dahlia’s body before our very eyes. The result was more Generation Game than Givenchy.
When our hero and his muse break into McQueen’s old Savile Row alma mater Anderson & Sheppard words failed me. This was A Christmas Carol with McQueen as his own ghost of Christmas past. The information about A&S was painfully familiar from my books and writings about McQueen’s relationship with Savile Row.
When A&S’s managing director John Hitchcock – a jovial man I consider a friend - popped-up as a character, I found it terribly hard to watch. When Mr Hitchcock started dirty dancing with the bandaged head ballet school I found it hard not to laugh. If I were Anderson & Sheppard, I’d be suing for defamation of character.
Half way through the A&S dream sequence I wanted to leave. But Tracy-Ann Oberman had yet to appear as Isabella Blow so we persevered. Blow, who was first past the post in the McQueen set to commit suicide, appears as a draggedy caricature of the troubled fashion stylist and creative godmother to McQueen. Actually, the part could have been played by a man to great effect.
The McQueen/Isabella banter was camp – as, by the way, was McQueen who called himself a ‘stitch bitch’ – and quite the most perceptive dialogue that James Phillips wrote. There was the guilt of Lee McQueen abandoning his fairy godmother and the mournful resignation that both had a death wish. If this scene had opened the play and Isabella – not Dahlia – accompanied McQueen on his journey to the underworld we could have got somewhere.
Having interviewed McQueen, I was amused by the scene where a fashion journalist has an audience with the great man. Dahlia ruins the scene by speaking for McQueen (why?) and interrupting the rather sharp dialogue between the scribe and the stitch bitch. I did find McQueen’s lines verging on a Russell Brand manifesto rather than a real conversation but anything was better than Dahlia’s lunatic ramblings.
Mrs T and I decided to brave the second half after another stiff one in the crush bar. But we admitted defeat during a scene where McQueen and Dalia are standing on the roof of a tower block in East London daring each other to jump. The otherwise superb light show seriously let this scene down when what was supposed to be a falcon or some such alighted on the roof. I nudged Mrs T and said, ‘falcon? It looks like a fucking squirrel’.
I’m afraid that was it. When Dahlia threatened once again to hurl herself from the rooftops both Mrs T and I wanted to yell ‘jump!’ We beat it like naughty school children and decamped to the American Bar at the Savoy for a fortifying G&T. I do feel as though this play might have been wonderful considering the calibre of actors involved. But it would take the cutting genius of an Alexander McQueen to savage the script and refashion a thing of beauty and poignancy.