The world of fashion is a lot about style over substance, so it’s perhaps appropriate that McQueen, James Phillips’s new play about the iconic late British fashion designer Alexander McQueen that has transferred from a spring run at the St James to the West End’s Haymarket, shares that attribute.
It is also strangely lethargic, in-between strutting displays of movement in which a cast of variously lean, tall dancers are dressed like shop floor mannequins or fashion show runway models.
The play follows hard on the recent, record-breaking Victoria and Albert Museum retrospective of the designer’s work, that was seen by nearly half a million people during its 21-week run. This play seeks to be about the man as much as his work, as it follows Stephen Wight’s McQueen — brooding, intense and mirthless — on a dark night of the soul with a young female intruder to his home (played by Carly Bawden). It turns out she works in his Bond Street shop, and he tries to save her from suicide — the fate he would himself succumb to, as would his friend and patron Isabella Blow, sympathetically embodied by Tracy-Ann Oberman.
It’s a play partly about the all-consuming spectre of depression, and at one point as Lee asks Isabella, “Am I going to make it Issy?”, he replies, “You already know the answer to that question.”
So do we, which rather diminishes the dramatic tension. But John Caird’s production – animated by pixelated, hallucinatory images of London from video designer Timothy Bird — conjures a good visual sense of McQueen’s world, and it feels right at home in the glittering gold leaf proscenium arch of the Haymarket itself that’s a neat echo of the gold-feathered McQueen coat that is a centrepiece of the collection shown here.