Reviewed by Tony Peters
You wait 50 years for a show about the Profumo Affair and then two come along together.
A few weeks ahead of Stephen Ward, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical based on the scandal that rocked the Conservative government in 1963 when it was revealed that Minister for War John Profumo was having an affair with showgirl Christine Keeler at the same time as she was sleeping with Russian attaché Eugene Ivanov, comes Gill Adams’ play about the same events.
Where Stephen Ward has an original book by Christopher Hampton, Adams bases her play on Christine Keeler’s book The Truth At Last and purports to tell her side of the story.
Given the source material, I was prepared for a little bit of bias, but in not being able to ignore the known facts and yet still present Christine in a reasonably good light, what Adams has presented is a one dimensional character that we struggle to feel anything for (be it pity or contempt). Sarah Armstrong plays Keeler at pretty much one note throughout, although to be fair she, like the rest of the cast, is let down by what is a very pedestrian text.
Given that this is Keeler’s story, the focus mainly falls on that of Stephen Ward, the so-called society osteopath who mixed with the aristocracy and was the supply source for these gentlemen’s bit on the side.
Paul Nicholas (who also directs) plays Ward fairly well; a rather creepy mixture of protector and pimp, but again there is no character arc. In an interminable courtroom scene as his world comes tumbling down, his friends in high places deserted him when the proverbial hits the fan, we have no sense that here is a man broken by events.
Stacy Leeson, making her West End debut, invests the Mandy Rice-Davies character with a certain amount of cheeky charm, but again, she’s given little to work with. That said, however, her role is epic compared with that of Profumo and Ivanov, who are so thinly drawn as to be almost invisible.
The Profumo Affair has it all really: those twin Brit obsessions with class and sex, a bit of violence and political leaders with feet of clay. It should be a rich source for dramatisation, but sadly, Gill Adams’ play isn’t it.
Perhaps the good Lord Webber will make a better fist of it.
Written by Gill Adams
Based on ‘The Truth At Last’ by Christine Keeler
Directed by Paul Nicholas
Christine KeelerSarah Armstrong
Stephen WardPaul Nicholas
John ProfumoMichael Good
Mandy Rice-DaviesStacy Leeson
Eugene IvanovAlex Dower
Lucky GordonMarcus Adolphy
Lord AstorAndrew Harrison