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Posts Tagged ‘Stephen Wight’

This play by James Phillips sets out to tell the story of fashion designer Alexander (Lee) McQueen, but in 110 minutes it doesn’t really tell us anywhere near enough. By introducing a lot of movement and music to give us a feel of the catwalk, it distracts from the story. It’s more pose than substance.

A girl called Dahlia has appeared in Lee’s workroom whilst he’s looking for inspiration for his next show, demanding a dress. She may be a burglar, a stalker, his alter ego or just a figment of his imagination. Together they visit the tailor where he was apprenticed where they meet his first tutor, on to meet his muse Isabella Blow, to his mother’s house and finally to a rooftop in Stratford, where he was brought up. A bunch of models / dancer occasionally appear to dance or pose. The story of his fascinating life is mere snatches. It doesn’t really go anywhere, feels very perfunctory and we don’t really learn much – except that he’s a genius and a tortured soul and he loves his mum. There’s a lot of stuff on the small stage but not much of it looks attractive, with the exception of a frock and a coat, which isn’t exactly what you might expect in homage to its subject.

The chief reason for seeing this is the performance of Stephen Wight as Lee, who does his best with the flimsy material. There’s a nice cameo from Tracy-Ann Oberman as Blow, making a terrific entrance laying on a chaise longue, but David Shaw-Parker and Laura Rees were wasted. I’m afraid I was unimpressed by Diana Agron as Dahlia, whose performance seemed very one-dimensional, though in fairness she didn’t have a lot to work with. Even the ensemble of eight seemed wasted, and very cramped on a stage made smaller by the design. Given the talent and pedigree of director John Caird and designer David Farley, the weakness of the production is a bit of a puzzle.

A missed opportunity to pay tribute to a design icon.

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Whoever had the idea of asking Graham Linehan to write, and Sean Foley to direct, this new version of a classic Ealing comedy was inspired. They bring a touch of absurdity, a sprinkling of surrealism and a cartoon-like quality, add lots of physical comedy and create a homage to the film rather than a film-to-stage transfer. Think Patrick Barlow’s 39 Steps meets Improbable’s Theatre of Blood and you’re getting warm.

It’s still set in 1956 and it’s faithful to the story, but freshly written. Designer Michael Taylor’s has created an enormous higgledy-piggledy multi-level house, with a nod to Heath Robinson, which moves to provide exterior locations and itself  ‘performs’, aided by terrific (and largely appropriately low-tech) special effects by Scott Penrose.

‘Professor’ Marcus has put together a team for a heist at Kings Cross and hires a room in Mrs Wilberforce’s house where, under the guise of rehearsing his string quintet, they plan their robbery. The successful (off-stage) robbery is cleverly staged, and the spoils brought to the house. Most of the play, however, revolves around their ‘getaway’.

It’s cast to perfection. Peter Capaldi is excellent as a gangling manic Professor, increasingly desperate in his attempts to keep it all together. James Fleet is perfect as a military con (gentle)man who seems a little fond of dresses. Stephen Wight is brilliant at the physical comedy required of his pill-popping cockney kleptomaniac (I just don’t understand why he isn’t covered in bruises – I winced a lot!). Clive Rowe is a wonderful big clumsy intellectually challenged bruiser with foot forever in mouth. Ben Miller is a delicious foreign Mafioso with a penchant for knives and a phobia of old ladies. Harry Peacock’s cameo as the tolerant local bobby is lovely. Then there’s Marcia Warren. What can I say? She’s so perfect as the post-war eccentric old dear who invented neighbourhood watch and quite how she keeps a straight face on stage all evening whilst all the chaos is going on is beyond me.

The original story apparently came fully formed in the dream of original screen writer William Rose and there’s a dreamlike quality to this version and this production. I found it delightfully charming; a smile never left my face and I laughed out loud often. It’s a big theatre to fill, but I do hope it finds its audience because it’s a very welcome, beautifully crafted evening.

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