McQueen (Theatre Royal Haymarket)
John Caird's production of James Phillips' dark play transfers to the West End from the St James Theatre
To be honest, I am not sure who the West End transfer of McQueen is aimed at. Admirers of the designer are likely to be disappointed by how little of his actual work is featured, especially after the V&A's recent - and stunning - exhibition; Glee fans will have seen it when it featured Dianna Agron during the earlier run at the St James (Carly Bawden has replaced her for the Haymarket and is a considerable improvement); contemporary dance enthusiasts would be better off at the Peacock or Sadler's Wells; and anybody hoping to encounter good new theatre writing is likely to be fleeing the auditorium after 90+ minutes of lines like "I'm too lonely to die alone with no meaning" with their hands over their ears, like latter day versions of Munch's 'The Scream'. Basically, anybody who chose to miss it first time around now has the opportunity to miss it all over again.
There is little information about Alexander McQueen here that couldn't be gleaned by a quick look at Wikipedia, and while it is refreshing to see a piece that genuinely defies categorisation - it's part hagiography, part drama, part modern dance, part fashion parade, all somewhat pretentious - it ultimately feels so relentlessly self-referential that it is virtually impossible to engage with unless you are in the world of High Fashion. There is hardly any dramatic tension for the 2 hour duration of the show (it felt longer).
On a positive note, Stephen Wight is terrific as McQueen: of course it doesn't hurt that with his shaved head and piercing eyes, Wight looks uncannily like him, but he also convincingly conveys the bruised genius, sensitivity and also brutality of the man. Magnificent work. Opposite him, Carly Bawden makes a creditable fist of the damaged, intense Dahlia (is she his muse? Is she his alter ego? Do we care?) and manages to get through an encounter with a golden peregrine (don't ask) and dialogue that sounds like the diary of a chronically depressed teenager, all without giggling. She is excellent and deserves better material. Tracy-Ann Oberman is great value as a back-from-the-dead Isabella Blow. I genuinely believed in her friendship with McQueen despite the fact that James Phillips has furnished them with lines suggesting an overwrought cross between a Carry On film and a 1980s fragrance ad. The nine scene-changing, shape-shifting dancers are breathtakingly beautiful (fine choreography by Christopher Marney) and I could have watched them all night.
John Caird's production is visually striking, as it should be given that this is a show about one of, if not the greatest, designer of their generation, and makes attractive, if not particularly original, use of projections (courtesy of the always brilliant Timothy Bird). The gilt of the Haymarket proscenium arch feels like a gorgeously appropriate framework for the McQueen aesthetic: the final fashion show sequence is genuinely beautiful.
However, a piece that takes itself this seriously needs to be offering up something more profound, humane and frankly better written than what is on show here. Gorgeous visuals, but ultimately all style and no substance.
McQueen runs at the Theatre Royal Haymarket until 7 November.