Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Stephen Ward Musical - Lloyd Webber too good for a scandal?


Stephen Ward (The Musical)
Aldwych Theatre
Address: 49 Aldwych, London WC2B 4DF
Phone: 0844 847 1712
Nearest Tube station: Covent Garden, Temple
TT catches the latest musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber and this is what she thinks of it.

Stephen Ward is the latest musical from Andrew Lloyd Webber with Richard Eyre directing. Being a fan of Phantom of the Opera and greatly impressed by Eyre's adaption of Ibsen's Ghosts, I was pleased to be invited to a preview of Stephen Ward.

The musical is about Ward's (Alexander Hansen) role in the Profumo Affair. Truth be told, I knew nothing about him or the Profumo Affair till I came across the play. Ward was a society osteopath who was close to the rich and famous which included those in the Establishment. He led an unconventional lifestyle and delighted in introducing young pretty girls of lower income backgrounds to men in position of power as some sort of libertarian experiment. He met a young Christine Keeler (Charlotte Spencer) in a West End nightclub and introduced her to the then Minister for War John Profumo (Daniel Flynn). Keeler and Profumo had a brief affair which he lied about. The scandal helped eventually topple the discredited Tory government then led by Harold Macmillan after it emerged she had also slept with the Russian naval attaché and spy Yevgeny Ivanov (Ian Conningham). There was a frenzy of speculation on possible espionage implications. A British government minister and a Soviet spy were sleeping with the same woman, who could be passing sensitive information between them. These espionage claims are now largely discredited but at that time they were played up by the Press and Ward believed that he was portrayed as a pimp by the Establishment to shift attention away from those claims. He stood trial for living off the immoral earnings of prostitution and on the day before the last day of his trial he committed suicide. The jury found him guilty in what had since been considered by some as a miscarriage of justice. This play seeks to redeem Ward.

This is serious stuff for a musical. Lloyd Webber is known for his lush music but can it really be suited to tell the story of a scandal? The first half of the show tried to flesh out the relationship between Ward and Keeler and how he introduced her to his famous friends. Their relationship was apparently purely platonic and we were supposed to believe that he saw something special in her. Perhaps because the show was still in its early days, I could not feel the chemistry between the actors playing Ward and Keeler. There was this duet between Ward and Keeler, This Side of The Sky, which has a beautiful tune but just does not carry any conviction or emotion. He sees something in me sung by the actress playing Keeler about her relationship with Ward also fails to hit the emotional soft spots. The pace picked up with the very energetic and cheeky routine set to You've Never Had It So Good just before the interval which was probably the play at its theatric best. The second half plunged into the events leading to the Profumo Affair and Ward's trial. The pace was more energetic but still there were few high points. The best performance of the second half (and perhaps the highlight of the entire play) came from Joanna Riding as Profumo's wife with her heartfelt rendition of I am Hopeless when it comes to You though one had to question whether the spurned political wife should have a place in this story.

The show's message was clear. Ward was sacrificed for going too close to the flame. Keeler was no innocent child and knew what she was getting into. There were a few great songs and the cast were excellent but somehow the storytelling seems to have let the story down. We get the message but we can't feel it. Perhaps all the play needs is a little more time on the stage to mature.

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