Close-Up: The Twiggy Musical | Live Show Review

Julia Rank
Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Like a puff piece in a celebrity magazine, it’s colourful and bubbly on the surface but it doesn’t do to look too closely

Cast of Close Up: The Twiggy Musical (photo: Manuel Harlan)
Cast of Close Up: The Twiggy Musical (photo: Manuel Harlan)

Lesley Hornby, aka Twiggy, shot to fame in 1966 as a 16-year-old model with her doe eyes, gamine haircut and androgynous build. She became the face of the Swinging Sixties and an emblem of social mobility.

Neasden-born Twiggy has worn many hats since her four-year modelling career, including film star, pop singer, television host, Tony-nominated Musical Theatre performer and Dame of the British Empire who apparently saved Marks & Spencer. She’s also experienced her share of hardships, but she isn’t the most compelling Musical Theatre protagonist – at least, not according to Close-Up: The Twiggy Musical, written and directed by her friend Ben Elton with a male-dominated creative team.

Elton employs a hagiographic whistle-stop tour through the first 30-odd years of Twiggy’s life framed with jokey fourth wall-breaking narration and 2023 knowingness. A social history of the 1940s through to the 1980s is illustrated in clumsy mascara-smudged brushstrokes, interspersed with patronising bite-sized lessons in feminism explaining terms such as body-shaming, the male gaze and gaslighting.

Elena Skye has a strong rock voice and conveys down-to-earth Cockney attitude

The show is performed against Timothy Bird’s photo-studio set that’s illuminated by Tim Blazdell’s video projections, and Jonathan Lipman provides a whirl of psychedelic costumes. In the title role, Elena Skye is game and looks the part, though the bad wigs don’t do her any favours. She has a strong rock voice and conveys a down-to-earth Cockney attitude, turning the tables when dismissed by influential men as an airheaded model. Strangely, her modelling career, while short, is brushed over and we only fleetingly get a sense of what a phenomenon she was.

Aoife Dunne and Lauren Azania AJ King-Yombo are likeable as Twiggy’s childhood friends Cindy and Kay, and Steven Serlin brings warmth to Twiggy’s Lancastrian father Norman, a lifelong self-educator. Her mother Nell (Hannah-Jane Fox) experienced PTSD after being bombed out in the Blitz and then post-natal depression after Twiggy’s birth. Elton elucidates this by having her warble songs by Vera Lynn and The Andrews Sisters.

The hodgepodge of vintage pop songs, with chaotic music video-style choreography by Jacob Fearey, is vigorously performed but the musical numbers serve as diversions rather than developing the story. With introductions like ‘This was popular when my mum had Electric Shock Therapy’, they lean towards the literal: ‘Downtown’ for shopping in Biba and ‘Just One Look’ for Twiggy’s iconic haircut. The best is probably the playground jive to ‘Bony Maronie’.

Particularly distasteful is the syrupy ‘Take Good Care of My Baby’ when Twiggy’s parents entrust her to the care of smarmy ‘Svengali’ businessman Justin de Villeneuve (Matt Corner). They started sleeping together when she was 15 and he was 25. The ‘sexy schoolgirl’ was an accepted fixture in popular culture back then, Twiggy explains.

De Villeneuve is treated rather generously as a love-to-hate comic turn, while Twiggy’s sinister encounter with record producer Phil Spector, later a convicted murderer, is played for laughs. ‘I dodged that bullet,’ she congratulates herself. 

The second half is dominated by Twiggy’s relationship with Michael Witney (a hammy Darren Day in the worst wig of the show), an ageing, alcoholic cowboy actor. Bizarrely, Elton seems more interested in showcasing the tiresomely self-destructive Witney than Twiggy herself.

Originally an aspiring designer, Twiggy despairs at being conned by the production of cheap tat with her name on it. Similarly, this show is raggedly pieced together. Like a puff piece in a celebrity magazine, it’s colourful and bubbly on the surface but it doesn’t do to look too closely.

Production credits

Various music, lyrics

Ben Elton book

Cast Elena Skye, Steven Serlin, Hannah-Jane Fox, Aoife Dunne, Beth Devine, Lauren Azania AJ King-Yombo, Matt Corner, Darren Day et al

Direction Ben Elton

Musical direction, supervision Stuart Morley

Choreography, movement direction Jacob Fearey

Set Timothy Bird

Lighting Philip Gladwell

Sound Gregory Clarke

Costumes Jonathan Lipman

Video Tim Blazdell

This article originally appeared in the December 2023 / January 2024 issue of Musicals magazine. Never miss an issue – subscribe today