Eye | 'McQueen' Play Opens In London To Mixed Reviews As Sister Janet Reveals Alexander McQueen's Sexual Abuse With Her Then Husband

Art & Culture


The play ‘McQueen’, now open at the St James Theatre in London, is receiving mixed reviews. The Independent approves of the drama’s choice of a ‘one night fairytale, a James Phillips script that whirls across London from the four-time winner of the ‘British Designer of the Year’ award’s posh house in West London to a high-rise rooftop in East London.’

The action is inspired by Dahlia, a young woman with her own dark side, who walks into McQueen’s life from his garden to steal a dress. The plot is anchored in reality, inspired by the 600-year-old ancient elm tree in McQueen’s garden and his Fall 2008 collection ‘A Girl Who Lives in a Tree’ that honored Royal Brittania and Indian exotica. This well-received collection came shortly after the 2007 suicide of McQueen’s good friend Isabella Blow.

Alexander McQueen Fall 2008

The play explores McQueen’s own depression — the designer killed himself in 2010 — using Dahlia as his mirror image. McQueen is played by actor Stephen Wight and Dahlia by GLEE star Dianna Agron. LondonTheatre1 writes:

Moving video imagery, pulsating fashion songs that are sweetened by baroque music transfer McQueen and Dahlia to various places, from Saville Row, a party in the V & A, a lunchtime interview, his mother’s home and the summit of a tall building in Stratford. We meet his humble ex-boss Mr Hitchcock, played by David Shaw-Parker, cut-throat PR slash journalist Arabella, acted by Laura Rees, and Isabella Blow, played by Eastenders actress Tracy-Ann Oberman, who enters the stage on a white sofa with smoke and a pair of diamante platforms to match. Yet, it’s not the dreamlike journey that thrill the audience but the conversations McQueen has with the other characters. Philips’ script puts McQueen in a poetic space full of interesting utterances of what ‘beauty’ means to him. On his body he has the Shakespearean words, ‘Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind’ tattooed on his body. Here, Philips suggests that McQueen found fruit in understanding people.

Other Reviews:

McQueen theatre review: plodding piece lacks Alexander McQueen’s dramatic daring London Evening Standard

London Theater Critics Tear Dianna Agron Limb from Limb, then BURN HER Defamer @ Gawker

A New Play Explores Alexander McQueen’s Psyche The Cut @ NY Magazine

McQueen’s Sexual Abuse

Vogue UK wrote last week that Lee McQueen’s sister Janet has finally spoken about her brother’s sexual abuse suffered in the hands of her former husband. 15 years older than her famous brother, Janet says that she was not aware of the abuse until four years before McQueen’s death.

Janet McQueen was frequently beaten by husband Terence Hulyer who sexually abused the designer when he was nine or ten.The beatings from Hulyer, now dead, were so severe that Janet suffered two miscarriages.

British designer Alexander McQueen and Sarah Jessica ParkerAlexander McQueen once said he wanted people to be ‘afraid of’ the women who wore his clothes, causing Janet to believe that he was driven to create the dark and often nightmarish designs because of the abuse doled out to both siblings.

McQueen’s official inspiration for the highly-controversial ‘Highland Rape’ show was his desire to highlight the suffering and rape of the Scottish highland women at the hands of British soldiers in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Critics and friends assume that Alexander McQueen’s 1995 collection ‘Highland Rape’, featuring models who appeared battered and bloodied was also inspired by Janet’s abuse.

After being accused of misogyny in 1995, McQueen was furious, responding ‘I’ve seen a woman get nearly beaten to death by her husband. I know what misogyny is. I hate this thing about fragility and making women feel naïve.’

Janet McQueen believes that she and four other siblings could have helped Lee if they had known of the severity of his drug addiction. She does not agree that the suicide of dear friend and mentor Isabella Blow was a contributing factor to the designer’s death.

Saying that she was clueeless to McQueen’s sexual abuse at the hands of her husband, Janet explains:

‘I think in a way Lee looked up to me as the eldest, even though obviously I came across as weak because of what happened, but what Lee suffered it was just such a shock,’ she told the Times2. ‘It still is. How did I miss something like that? The day I was told I was shell-shocked.  Can you imagine leading a life for so many years, and then finding out something as bad as that? You just can’t grasp it at first. Of course I felt guilt. Who wouldn’t?’

McQueen’s siblings were largely excluded from any involvement in the ‘Savage Beauty’ exhibit London’s V&A Museum. Janet says that current Alexander McQueen Creative Director Sarah Burton wanted to keep a family member on the board, but that didn’t happen. ‘She’s a lovely lady. She worked with Lee for 14 years and idolised him.’

Returning to the subject of the play ‘McQueen’, writer James Phillips sent Janet the manuscript for her approval.

She wrote me this incredible letter about how much she loved it, Phillips told The Independent. I think if she’d hated it, we wouldn’t have done it. But she felt it caught someth8ng essential abut his spirit.’

Tracy-Ann Oberman as Isabella Blow; Stephen Wright as Lee McQueen