Monday, 25 May 2015

Theatre review: McQueen at St James Theatre



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The opening to sort-of-biopic McQueen is like one of the designer's fashion shows; fantastical. Mannequins set the stage with almost ethereal movements until it's near impossible to distinguish between the plastic figures and those portrayed by actors. When they have found their places in the designer's workspace, a fragile, almost bird-like girl enters, Dahlia (Dianna Agron). When Alexander 'Lee' McQueen (Stephen Wight) finds the intruder he thinks she's just a fan, but somehow she manages to convince him to make her a dress and as they spend the night together he realises they have more in common than he initially thought.

I'm always fascinated by stories - whether in novels, on screen or on stage - that recount a piece of history that I am not very familiar with before watching (or reading) it unfold as it doesn't only mean that I get to explore an engaging story, but also learn something fascinating in the process. A recent example is the cleverly crafted The Pink Suit by Nicole Mary Kelby, which through an unexpected focus on a suit (so with a similar fashion theme to McQueen) recounted the assassination of JFK.

As I'm not a fashionista by any means I knew little of the life of McQueen before going to St James Theatre for the play and so I was looking forward not only to be compelled by the production, but also to discover more about this tortured soul who made such an impact on the fashion industry yet was so deconstructive to his own person that he died aged just 40.

It was certainly an intriguing backdrop, though perhaps Dahlia's role in his life was fictional, the play still had the potential to provide an engaging insight into the twisted mind of McQueen, who was portrayed equal parts brilliance and torment by Wight. It's a shame then that the story and other performances fell somewhat flat. Agron (mostly known for TV's Glee) was monotone in voice and acting skills, which distracted from Wight's heartfelt performance. And while the exploration of the designer's mind was a fascinating concept to begin with, some elements woven throughout only added unnecessary distraction rather than enhancing the play as a whole. 

Like McQueen's fashion shows the production certainly looked stunning and had an otherworldly quality to it thanks to the outstanding choreography by Christopher Marney, which was performed so beautifully by the talented ensemble members. Unfortunately it is very much a case of style over substance at times and the stunning choreography and commendable performance by Wight weren't enough to save a play that, simply put, doesn't focus on the engaging story it could've told.



©Specular




McQueen is running at St James Theatre in London (near Victoria Station) until 27 June 2015. You can buy tickets here.

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