Arts: Theatre: The high priestess rises again

FULL GALLOP HAMPSTEAD THEATRE LONDON

ELIZABETH BOWEN once described Edith Sitwell as looking like "a high altar on the move". It is not far off a fitting description of Mary Louise Wilson's magnificent incarnation of Diana Vreeland, the high priestess of fashion who came from nowhere except a smart marriage to become editor-in-chief of American Vogue.

Dominating and dictating the style of the Sixties, it was Vreeland who promoted the peerless photography of Richard Avedon and the distinct look of models like Twiggy. Not that this solo show is a humourless catalogue of historical facts for fashion groupies. She was certainly a guru - "Pink," she announced, "is the navy blue of India" - but her style was her own. "The only thing I ever learned was how to dance," she says, and it shows. With a grand manner (and hairstyle) shared by Wallis Simpson, and dressed in basic black lit up by high-rouged cheekbones and a slash of richest red on her lips and nails, Wilson slithers across the set of Vreeland's Park Avenue home like a panther. In the wake of her sudden sacking from Vogue, she fills vases with lilies, prepares for a dinner party, gives great phone, and recounts her thoughts to us. No, not recounts, brays.

Wilson's outrageously entertaining manner has the austerity of Martha Graham, but she hits you like a cross between Katherine Hepburn and Elaine Stritch, with her growling whiplash wit. The beautifully tailored script, by Mark Hampton and Wilson herself, is strewn with drop-dead one-liners, most of them Vreeland's own words. "Excess!", she cries, worshipfully, and indeed lived-in exaggeration is her hallmark. She doesn't like things, she adores them with a quite sublime but ridiculously engaging self-belief. Everything from soft furnishings - "What the hell's the matter with that chair? It looks like Elsa Maxwell" - to Hitler's moustache - "It was just wrong" - lives in the detail.

But she is far less tyrannical than this would suggest. For a start, she is a great believer in vulgarity. "We all need a splash of bad taste... no taste is what I'm against." Wilson's exquisitely timed performance has real comic zest, but it is the unexpected pathos that deepens the pleasure of watching her. As the evening progresses, reality begins to seep through beneath Vreeland's deliciously buoyant confidence. Reading aloud a hostile profile of her in the New York Post, she hears herself speaking the words that she is "in her seventies". Horrorstruck, she hurls the paper across the room.

Like much of this almost guiltily enjoyable evening, the moment is one of high comedy, but, against all the odds, Wilson's superbly unsentimental portrayal is surprisingly touching. In her droll programme note she informs us that, despite her admiration for Vreeland, she had her doubts as "I loathe one-woman shows". She needn't have worried. The role fits her like an evening glove.

Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Arts and Entertainment
The audience aimed thousands of Apple’s product units at Taylor Swift throughout the show
musicReview: On stage her manner is natural, her command of space masterful
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Channel 4 is reviving its Chris Evans-hosted Nineties hit TFI Friday

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford plays Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade (1989)

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
A Glastonbury reveller hides under an umbrella at the festival last year

Glastonbury
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miles Morales is to replace Peter Parker as the new Spider-Man

comics
Arts and Entertainment
The sequel to 1993's Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, has stormed into the global record books to score the highest worldwide opening weekend in history.

film
Arts and Entertainment
Odi (Will Tudor)
tvReview: Humans, episode 2
Arts and Entertainment
Can't cope with a Port-A-loo? We've got the solution for you

FestivalsFive ways to avoid the portable toilets

Arts and Entertainment
Some zookeepers have been braver than others in the #jurassiczoo trend

Jurassic WorldThe results are completely brilliant

Arts and Entertainment
An original Miffy illustration
art
Arts and Entertainment
Man of mystery: Ian McKellen as an ageing Sherlock Holmes
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Kitchen set: Yvette Fielding, Patricia Potter, Chesney Hawkes, Sarah Harding and Sheree Murphy
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Evans has been confirmed as the new host of Top Gear
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Top of the class: Iggy Azalea and the catchy ‘Fancy’
music
Arts and Entertainment
Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters performs at Suncorp Stadium on February 24, 2015 in Brisbane, Australia.

music
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Evans had initially distanced himself from the possibility of taking the job

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
British author Matt Haig

books
Arts and Entertainment
Homeland star Damian Lewis is to play a British Secret Service agent in Susanna White's film adaptation of John le Carre's Our Kind of Traitor

Film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

    Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
    Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

    One day to find €1.6bn

    Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
    New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

    'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

    Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
    Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

    Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

    The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
    Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

    Historians map out untold LGBT histories

    Public are being asked to help improve the map
    Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

    Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

    This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
    Paris Fashion Week

    Paris Fashion Week

    Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
    A year of the caliphate:

    Isis, a year of the caliphate

    Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
    Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

    Marks and Spencer

    Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
    'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

    'We haven't invaded France'

    Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
    Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

    Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

    The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
    7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

    Remembering 7/7 ten years on

    Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
    Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

    They’re here to help

    We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
    Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

    Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

    'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
    What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

    What exactly does 'one' mean?

    Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue