Fifty years after the sex scandal that shocked the nation, Christine Keeler’s story has been bought back to the stage.
Plucked from the London cabaret club Murray’s at the age of 16 by Stephen Ward, an osteopath to the stars, Keeler was first introduced to the British Secretary of State for War, John Profumo, at a house party thrown by Lord Astor. In 1963, at the height of the Cold War, it emerged that she had been sleeping with both Profumo and Yevgeny Ivanov, an alleged spy for the Soviet Union. The scandal rocked Macmillan’s Conservative government of the day and resulted in Profumo’s resignation.
The plot makes for a truly fantastic set of events yet writer Gill Adams version, based on Keeler’s own autobiography, lacks any of the drama you would expect. Especially when the tale is one of showgirls, sex and suicide.
This said, Paul Nicholas (who has also directed the play) as Stephen Ward and Sarah Armstrong as Christine Keeler gave good performances which hammered home the oddity of the pairs relationship. The part where Ward throws Keeler’s towel around with his friends while she stands helplessly naked, for instance, was slightly disturbing.
Nicholas’ character is perhaps the one that stands out the most, especially with the amount of concern he shows for doing the right thing, even when his whole world begins to crumble. Most of the emphasis is on Ward, rather than Keeler, which makes for a refreshing point of view but can be considered slightly odd when you remember the title of the play is in fact Keeler. One criticism of Nicholas’ portrayal of Ward is that you do not get the feeling that he is really into the young girls he is chasing at all.
Thought had obviously been put into the set, a split-level stage. While the lower area remained Ward’s living room for the majority of the performance, the upper section was hidden by sliding doors, that opened to reveal other locations. The doors also acted as a screen, with text and images appearing to tell the audience where the play was taking them next.
The liveliest Keeler got was with its show girl routines, the most prominent being at the very beginning of the show in Murray’s.
While there were moments a spark could have been lit they was soon extinguished and when Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new musical, Stephen Ward, on the same topic opens in December it will not have a high bar to beat.
Keeler is at the Charing Cross Theatre and booking till December 14.