The iconic black chair that most people, aware of the Profumo scandal, envision when they hear the name Christine Keeler, starts and finishes this play in a rather conflicting, yet cleverly insightful, manner. Unlike most, my knowledge on this historic political event was regretfully minimal. Unfortunately, I came away knowing little more else about Keeler’s story, other than what I had already read in the synopsis on Charing Cross Theatre’s web link.
And it’s not through the performers want of trying – in fact, the cast are mostly faultless throughout. Sarah Armstrong provides a thoroughly convincing Keeler, portraying an unerring example of a young lady struggling with maturity and the handling of her unarguable beauty. The role undoubtedly stretches young actresses like Armstrong – requiring promiscuity, lasciviousness and plenty of nudity – all of which she handles with complete mastery, yet, on the other hand, she unfortunately struggles with executing the more serious and salient parts of her character in later scenes of the play. Michael Good as John Profumo also deserves an honourable mention for his portrayal of an undisputedly difficult character, even despite largely featuring in scenes that formulate particularly uncomfortable viewing. Perhaps the most well-executed actor (and in this case, producer as well) though, is Paul Nicholas; well known for his roles in musicals such as Jesus Christ Superstar and Cats, it is hard to believe he can deliver such a convincing performance as Stephen Ward – a role completely different to what people have known him for before.
Regardless of obvious potential in those cast, sadly Gill Adam’s scripting is unexciting and, at times, even dull (namely, a particularly long-winded and wordy court scene in act two). Where Keeler herself has called it ‘brilliant’ for ‘telling it like it was’, it is unlikely that most spectators will (or do) feel the same enthusiasm for a storyline that would arguably be better seen on screen rather than stage – or perhaps even not at all. The absence of any lasting impression causes one to favour the latter. Unfortunately for Adams, the monotonous set design and simple lighting techniques do little to aid this problem, although the accompanying soundtrack is enjoyably welcomed and certainly apt for the era. Use of black and white projections to notify the audience of scene location are cleverly conveyed and nicely compiled – without them, the story would be completely impossible to follow owing to the unadventurous set-design. The costuming involved in the production, however, is splendidly realistic – in particular, the magnificence of the Show Girl’s outfits – and, accompanying that, the small amount of choreography involved in the Gentleman’s Club segments is flawlessly performed and with good synchronicity.
All in all, this play provides a good evening of entertainment, but leaves a lot to be desired. Reviews have been categorically negative about this production and, sadly, I can see why. On reflection, the performance is entertaining but mildly interesting at best. Perhaps a play devoted completely to Keeler’s view of events is a little ambitious considering the potential to develop the, arguably, more interesting characters involved in this historic scandal. It is for that reason why I, and undoubtedly many others, have incredibly higher hopes and expectations for Lloyd-Webber’s rival production ‘Stephen Ward’ opening next month.