First night: Grand style lit by bad taste

Full Gallop Hampstead Theatre London
Click to follow
The Independent Online
ELIZABETH BOWEN once described Edith Sitwell as looking like "a high altar on the move". It is not far off a description of Mary Louise Wilson's magnificent incarnation of Diana Vreeland, the high priestess of fashion who, as editor-in-chief of American Vogue, dictated and dominated the style of the Sixties. It was Vreeland who promoted the peerless photography of Richard Avedon and the distinctive look of models such as Twiggy.

Yet a humourless catalogue of historical facts for fashion groupies it is not. She was certainly a guru - "Pink", she announces, "is the navy blue of India" - but her style was her own. "The only thing I ever learnt was how to dance," she says, and it shows.

With a grand manner shared by Wallis Simpson and dressed in basic black lit up by high-rouged cheekbones and a slash of richest red on lips and nails, Wilson slithers across the set of Vreeland's Park Avenue home like a panther.

In the wake of her sacking from Vogue, she fills vases with lilies, prepares for a dinner party, gives great phone, and recounts her thoughts. No, not recounts, brays. Wilson's outrageously entertaining manner hits you like a cross between Katharine Hepburn and the growling, whiplash wit of Elaine Stritch.

The beautifully tailored script - by Mark Hampton and Wilson - is strewn with drop-dead one-liners, most of them culled from Vreeland's words.

Exaggeration is her hallmark - "We all need a splash of bad taste ... no taste is what I'm against" - but Wilson pulls off an extraordinary coup. Reading aloud a profile of her in the New York Post she reads that she is in her -gasp - "seventies" and hurls the paper across the room. It is high comedy but, against all the odds, Wilson's superb solo is tremendously touching.

Comments