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Alexander McQueen London play
Image from The Girl Who Lived in the Tree, the collection that inspired the playvia

Alexander McQueen play gears up to premiere in London

McQueen's sister Janet and playwright James Phillips spoke about the AW08 collection that inspired the new stage show

This year will probably go down in history as the time everyone went mad for Alexander McQueen. From the V&A's blockbuster Savage Beauty retrospective to the behind-the-scenes books and exhibitions, fans of the late designer are spoilt for choice. But a new play opening in London is trying to give a new twist to his story.

McQueen opens at the St James Theatre in London on 12 May and is billed as "a journey into the visionary imagination and dark dream world". Playwright James Phillips joined McQueen's sister Janet on BBC News this morning with more details about the show.

Phillips said he was inspired to write the script after reading an interview with McQueen about his AW08 collection, The Girl Who Lived in the Tree. "I’ve got a 600-year-old elm tree in my garden," the designer explained at the time. "I made up a story: a girl lives in it and comes out of the darkness to meet a prince and becomes a queen." The resulting collection referenced the Union Jack, colonial India and fairytale Victoriana.

"I fell in love with him as an artist first of all," Phillips said. "I wanted to write about a contemporary artist, not someone 200 years ago in a wig, but someone very much from now who could talk about creativity and inspiration."

"I tried to find a way I could write about him without writing in a sort of obvious, biographical way – to write about his imagination and his inner life."

Phillips said that he had little contact with the McQueen family while writing the play, though his sister had given him the go-ahead when she received the final script. "She kindly read it and wrote me a beautiful letter about why she liked it back – and we've sort of corresponded since then and have been talking about all the aspects of the show going forwards."

Janet also spoke of her family's pride at McQueen's ascent in fashion and their shock at his suicide in 2010.

"We were so proud obviously of what Lee's achieved, but it was just amazing, his journey into the fashion world," she said. "None of the family has really [come to terms with his death]. People get touched by tragedy, they learn to live with it each day. I think that's the way we deal with it."

The play is set on a single night at McQueen's Mayfair house and is billed as a "a journey into the visionary imagination and dark dream world" of the designer, "where with a dress an urchin can become an Amazon, where beauty might just help us survive the night".

Stephen Wright, currently starring in BBC Three comedy Bluestone 42, plays Alexander McQueen. The designer catches an obsessed fan (played by Glee actor Dianna Agron) after she spends eleven days up a tree outside his Mayfair house, plotting to break in to steal a dress. Instead of calling the police, McQueen takes her on a single life-altering journey through London and into his dark imagination. 

Watch the runway show for The Girl Who Lived in the Tree below: