JAN MOIR: It's Twiggy the musical! Not even a dusting of writer Ben Elton's ... trends now
Last Monday night, the curtain went up on a brand-new jukebox musical at a tiny fringe theatre in London. In front of a capacity audience of 180 people, it was a humble beginning for Close-Up: The Twiggy Musical, written by Ben Elton and celebrating the life of Lesley Hornby.
Lesley who? As if you didn't know! She was the tiny scrap of a girl from Neasden who went on to become a supermodel at 16 and a film star by 21. Twiggy was an international sensation, a home-grown phenomenon who also became a Broadway smash, a best-selling recording artist, a TV star and a dame.
Her life has been absolutely astonishing, and it seems fitting that this production puts her in her rightful place, at the beating heart of British popular culture. But at the dawn of her career and in the opening scenes of this play, all everyone is talking about is her weight.
'I think she's got a tapeworm,' says her mother, fussing around the stage. A character based on the agony aunt Claire Rayner bustles on. 'Men don't want twigs, men want meat on the bone, boobs and bum,' she chides. Someone else calls the young model a 'stick-thin waif'.
Twiggy herself, played by Elena Skye in a mini-skirt and tartan tights, her hair chopped into that unmistakeable pixie crop, talks directly to the audience. 'I was called androgynous. That's posh for no tits,' she says. Then the band strike up and the cast launch into a spirited version of Bony Moronie, the 1950s hit that celebrates a girl who is 'as skinny as a stick of macaroni'. It is only one of dozens of songs scattered throughout this 135-minute production, the melodic signposts that map out Twiggy's life in four-beat bars.
Mini-me: Twiggy (left) is played by Elena Skye (right) in the musical Close-Up: The Twiggy Musical
Amazing: Her life has been absolutely astonishing, and it seems fitting that this production puts her in her rightful place, at the beating heart of British popular culture
Twiggy meets Svengali boyfriend Justin de Villeneuve, cue Bend Me, Shape Me by Amen Corner. Twiggy goes out on the town with her mates, cue Downtown by Petula Clark. Twiggy breaks up with husband, cue Without You by Harry Nilsson. Husband has a drink problem, cue Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down by Kris Kristofferson, and so on.
Before long I was feeling very We Gotta Get Out Of This Place by the Animals, but surely only a curmudgeon would complain about there being too many songs in a musical.
Unfortunately, as the Russell Brand scandal continues to dominate the news, Elton and his creative team have picked rather a difficult month to blithely explain that 15-year-old Twiggy left home to love and live with 25-year-old de Villeneuve - cue Young Girl by Gary Puckett & The Union Gap. 'But you are making it sound so creepy,' says Justin, trussed up in purple corduroys and played with a delicious Austin Powers swagger by Matt Corner.
'It was the Sixties,' shrugs the Twiggy character, as if that explains everything. And, actually, it does.
Twiggy herself was in the audience on Monday night, slipping into her seat after the house lights went down. She sat in the darkness of the theatre watching her own life unfold before her eyes, and her long-dead parents, Norman and Nell, come to life again, via the magic of theatre.
'I cried through most of it,' she said, when she was a guest on BBC1's The One Show the following evening. 'Five minutes in and I started crying when my mum and dad came on. Every life has wonderful things and sad things. I had moments of wonderment and relationships that didn't go right. Bring your Kleenex!'
The musical does not gloss over her difficult marriage to Michael Witney (played here by Darren Day), the handsome American actor who was known for playing cowboys in series such as Gunsmoke, Bonanza and Daniel Boone. 'He had me at howdy,' says Twiggy in Close-Up.
Writer: Elena Skye (left), with writer of the musical Ben Elton (centre) and the real Twiggy (right)
After meeting on the set of 1974 film W - Twiggy having made her debut as a lead in a movie at the age of 21, when Ken Russell famously took a chance on the saucer-eyed ingenue and cast her in The Boy Friend - the couple married in 1977 and had daughter Carly the following year.
Later, they separated under the strain of Witney's alcoholism, a problem over which Twiggy has always been gracious and understanding.
By the time