Like so many hard-to-imagine aspects of Alexander McQueen’s life, and death, a play about the designer has been made and it’s opening soon.
Playwright James Phillips began work in 2012, the year of McQueen’s exhibition at the Met. That the blockbuster is now on view at the V&A, causing heightened McQueen frenzy across the UK, is a stroke of luck. He’s also fortunate that, after sending the manuscript to McQueen’s family, he received enthusiastic approval.
Nonetheless, Phillips says he’s been cautious in his portrayal of the sensitive subject matter. “I was really clear I didn’t want to write a documentary-style bio-play,” he told the Independent, “because I don’t think bio-plays work. And there’s a tabloid version of this story, which I had no interest in at all.”
Thus, the play takes the shape of a fairy tale. Based on the theme of one of McQueen’s own collections, The Girl Who Lived in a Tree, the story begins with an obsessed fan named Dahlia, who breaks into McQueen’s studio and befriends him. The two then go on a magical journey across London, through Savile Row workshops, glamourous fashion parties, and rough East End. This hopscotch structure allows Phillips to address the darker parts of McQueen’s story, including his rocky relationship with Isabella Blow, and his eventual suicide.
McQueen is played by Stephen Wight, a fellow East Ender whose resemblance to the designer is uncannily, while Dahlia is played by Diana Agron (Glee). There is also a fair amount of choreography, video projections, and bits of soundtrack from McQueen’s shows, from Mozart to Nirvana. The costumes, too, will nod to McQueen’s work, acting as interpretations rather than reproductions.
McQueen, May 12 – June 27, 2015, St James Theatre, London