Sunday, 28 June 2015

mcqueen the play

James Phillips' play, riding the wave of London's McQueen hysteria on the back of the V&A's "Savage Beauty" retrospective, was inspiring at times, but overall rather uncomfortable and pretentious. Its insight into McQueen's creative process was stunning, but it did largely appropriate his suicide in a way that was both cringe inducing and distasteful to anyone who has knowledge of McQueen's life, and death. "Savage Beauty" was much better. 

The play was not simply a history of McQueen's life, though arguably it would have been better if it had been. The problem partially lay in its fictionalisation of the character of someone who was to a large extent an enigma whilst alive. Furthermore, being so recently deceased, it seemed insensitive to make such bold assumptions about his reasons for suicide then put them into a play performed for an audience's entertainment. McQueen was undoubtedly an incongruous fashion favourite. His refreshing, evolutionary creativity was completely different to what fashion had been before him. To try and understand the mind of someone capable of creating such hauntingly beautiful clothes is a great feat. To be able to do so sensitively then write a play about it, almost impossible.

In the play, a young woman named Dahlia breaks into McQueen's house, demanding that he make her a dress. They begin a one night only adventure across London, starting at the Saville Row tailors where McQueen began his career. There, he makes her a dress. Next they go to a club where McQueen is interviewed by a condescending journalist. This is also the scene where McQueen shows his unique skill to analyse strangers; past their appearance, into their history, their minds, their wants, their needs. The next scene was in a church where McQueen began to photograph Dahlia in the dress he had made for her, before realising that she had overdosed in an attempted suicide. He takes her to his mother's house and lets her try on a coat made of golden feathers that he made but doesn't have a collection for it to go with. This scene showed how having faith in fashion can be a powerful force. McQueen tells Dahlia that when she wears the coat she will feel invincible and like everything will be okay. She is doubtful, but eventually she puts it on. Next they are on the top of a tower block watching birds. At the end of the night they return to McQueen's house. Dahlia leaves, having promised that they would only spend one night together.

The main problem with the play was the script. The lines were melodramatic and pretentious; basically like everything I ever wrote when I was fifteen years old. Dahlia was very manic pixie dream girl, only instead of taking McQueen away from his problems, she forces him to face up to them. When they stand on the tower block at the end McQueen says to Dahlia that she deserves for someone to love her even when she is sat in a dark room all day crying or when she screams when the tube passes her so that no one hears. Of course everyone deserves to be loved, but this seemed a bit too Effy/Freddie in "Skins." You cannot depend on anyone other than yourself. If you are depressed, no one is going to save you but you.

Dahlia's character was underdeveloped and consequently seemingly shallow. She clearly had a lot of demons, but the audience never finds out anything more about her. She is merely a prop for McQueen to uncover his own underlying problems and anxieties. I have a fundamental problem with one-dimensional female characters. Obviously the play was about Alexander McQueen, but that does not mean that the other characters should be overlooked or ignored. By the end of the play none of Dahlia's problems are resolved. She just disappears into the night as ethereally as she arrived. Perhaps it was all supposed to represent a dream?

That said, the fashion elements of the play were beautiful. Dancers wearing McQueen-esque creations gave life to the play and reminded the audience that this was a play about a fashion designer. The scene where McQueen makes the dress for Dahlia is also fascinating; how the dress is made so speedily around her and how McQueen decides on what it should look like based on Dahlia's personality.

The scene with Isabella Blow was jarring because it was so real. In that respect it was very well done but it is important to remember that only 5 years have passed since McQueen's suicide. That is long enough to celebrate his work, but still too short a time to recreate conversations that McQueen may have had in his head with the woman who helped make him famous and whose suicide in 2007 was linked to McQueen's.

Overall, I'm glad that I saw the play because I unashamedly love all things McQueen. If the play had been wholly fictional perhaps I would have enjoyed it more. However, I am very critical about representations of mental illness so I'm still unsure. I enjoyed "Savage Beauty" a lot more than "McQueen" and for a fraction of the price. 


  1. Thank you for this very nice review!
    I've also visited the exhibition "Savage Beauty" this spring and it was just so gorgeous - I was lost for words!! However, I've never heard of the play, but after reading your articel I think I've now a clear image of it in my head:)


    1. Thank you! "Savage Beauty" was absolutely spectacular. The play was not on for very long and I saw it a few nights before the closing night. I think it's finished now so I saw no harm in giving a detailed description of the plot. I'm glad you enjoyed the review :)


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