Lord and West End legend Andrew Lloyd Webber is back with a brand new musical that revisits one of the biggest scandals of the Sixties.
Enlisting the help of Oscar-winning wordsmiths Christopher Hampton (Dangerous Liaisons) and Don Black (Born Free), Stephen Ward tells the story of the Profumo Affair which rocked the Conservative government of the time.
For those unfamiliar with the part he played during the tumultuous events, Stephen Ward was an osteopath that introduced cabinet minister John Profumo to “show girl” Christine Keeler (who was the focus of the 1989 film about the same events, Scandal). Ward also introduced Keeler to Russian naval attaché Captain Yevgeny and, some months later, this would create the notorious, and somewhat dubious, unfolding events in court and the newspapers.
Webber’s decision to concentrate on Stephen’s involvement in the proceedings, and making him the centre of attention, is interesting. Where previous interpretations have focused on Christine Keeler and Profumo himself, shifting the focus onto the seemingly innocuous Ward is fascinating. He’s not a particularly sympathetic man; arrogant, slick and almost emotionless; passive to the whirlwind surrounding him.
The songs are, for the most part, rather flashy and garish; ‘Give Us Something Juicy’, ‘1963’ and ‘Manipulation’ give a chance for the cast to sexily romp along to the pop melodies. A highlight is the moving ‘I’m Hopeless When It Comes To You’, sung beautifully by Joanna Riding as Profumo’s wife, Valerie Hobson. Alexander Hanson and Charlotte Spencer perform the lead roles, Ward and Keeler respectively, adequately; the former arrogant and cold and the latter bouncy and spoilt.
Matching the technicolour and vibrancy of the “swinging Sixties” is the choreography. There’s certainly a few eye-popping moves, particularly when it comes to some fleshy reveals and leather clad sex parties. The set production, however, is rather uninspiring, relying heavily on back projections.
Though perhaps not particularly memorable – ironic, given how impactful the actual factual events have been in UK history (and still remain to this day) – Stephen Ward is in parts bright and breezy and in others thoughtful and insightful; a fine tribute to a rather complex character and a sadly dubious political cover-up.
Performed on Wednesday 15 January 2014 at London’s Aldwych Theatre.
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