We got the chance to sit up front at the new play McQueen running at the Royal Haymarket Theatre in London. The show was written by James Phillips and directed by John Caird. Stephen Wight plays the legendary fashion designer Alexander McQueen and the other main character Dahlia (the girl who lived in the tree... we'll get to this), a girl McQueen finds lurking around the basement of his new home, is played by Carly Bawden. The show takes place in the space of a night where Alexander McQueen is not only feeling the pressures of the notoriety and fame he has gained with Gucci turning his name into a global fashion powerhouse but also dealing with what he feels is his contribution to the suicide death of the woman who some say is credited with his discovery, Isabella Blow (played by Tracy-Ann Obermann). Before the show starts, you see Wight (McQueen) pacing the stage fiddling around with his favourite belt in his hand, looking distressed. The show starts with McQueen coming across a strange girl, Dahlia, having broken into his home while on the phone with his friend Philip Treacy. The show then follows the events of one night with McQueen and Dahlia running through some of McQueen's old stomping grounds, including the atelier at which he first worked on Saville Row to his mother's house.
In my opinion, the strongest part of the show was the visual elements. The set crew were essentially models which helped to illustrate the creative process McQueen underwent when producing an idea for a new collection. They started out with very basic outfits on, then throughout the show their outfits morphed into ones similar to those in the actual The Girl That Lived in a Tree collection from Autumn Winter 2008. The transitions between scenes could have passed for high-fashion editorial shoots.
While visually appealing, the dialogue in the show was a bit strained. At times, it felt as if you were sitting in a university lecture hall listening to a history lesson on a historical figure. For some, perhaps this allowed the writers to educate the audience who may not be knowledgeable about the life of and controversies surrounding Alexander McQueen; however, it seems there could have been a more natural way to inform the audience while telling the story. It also seemed strange that Dahlia called McQueen "Alexander McQueen" too many times to count throughout the show (not Alexander, not Lee, not McQueen, the whole name).
By the end of the show, you come to find that Dahlia is that inner demon, playing the embodiment of that guilt sent there to stop him from taking his life that night as well as the muse for the Autumn Winter collection.
The story of the life and times of Alexander McQueen is truly fascinating. His immense talent, his meteoric rise to the very apex of the fashion world and his impact on the fashion industry is a story worth telling as I believe he is one of the greatest artists of our time. While visually appealing, this show would need a lot of work on the substance to tell the story as it should be told.