Theatre review: Stephen Ward at the Aldwych Theatre
- Credit: CREDIT Photograph by Nobby Clark
The Profumo scandal shook 1960s Britain and the female principals of the scandal – Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies – continue to inflame the public imagination.
The men – society osteopath Stephen Ward and the War Minister John Profumo, whose affair with Keeler brought them all down, are grey in comparison.
Now, none other than Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber has resuscitated Ward in an eponymous musical that underscores how badly he was treated by friends and foes alike.
It’s a tough subject and not one that naturally lends itself to lyrical music and a ham-fistedly light-hearted libretto from Christopher Hampton and Don Black, but the strange mix of sublime and ridiculous is Stephen Ward’s strength.
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Because the proceedings are too fast and too frothy to be taken seriously, one can step back and enjoy the hula-hooping dancers, the tabletop orgy, the gun-toting Notting Hill gangsters and even Ward’s suicide, which happens after he’s sung quite a pretty tune.
As Ward, Alexander Hanson is just the right mix of charming and seedy. Charlotte Spencer’s Keeler looks too old, but feels just right as an 18-year-old.
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As Rice-Davies, the single survivor who went on to bigger and better things as a writer, Charlotte Blackledge initially feels too old and knowing, but settles as the show canters along.
The staging is unexpectedly dull with a drab, one-dimensional set, but the choreography is terrific.
There are a couple of spectacular ballads: This Side of the Sky, a duet for Ward and Keeler and I’m Hopeless When It Comes To You, sung by Valerie Hobson (Profumo) after her husband has admitted he lied to her, to the police and to parliament about the affair.
The on-stage delivery does not match the obvious quality of the songs, but would fly if handled by a diva.
Other numbers which are destined to be favourites are Super-duper Hula Hooper; You’ve Never had It So Good and 1963, which we sang all the way home.
Nobody buying tickets for a musical about Stephen Ward will do so with the expectation of seeing either a dark political thriller, or an insightful reframing of an old story and on that basis, there is plenty here to enjoy.