The Theatreguide.London Review
Charing Cross Theatre Autumn 2013
The first of two shows this year marking the fiftieth anniversary of the Profumo Affair is a not very good production of a not very good play.
A bit of ancient history: in 1963 Minister for War John Profumo had to confess to Parliament that he had been having an affair with 'party girl' Christine Keeler, who was also sleeping with a Soviet Embassy attaché.
There was no indication of top secret pillow talk being transferred, but things led inexorably to Profumo's resignation, the prosecution and suicide of go-between Stephen Ward, and lots of tabloid stories.
Gill Adams' play is based on Christine Keeler's memoirs, so it puts an innocent all-in-good-fun gloss on a lot of the story and offers surprisingly few insights (One small bit of news – Christine did try to get Profumo to spill some official secrets, not for espionage reasons, but to feed Ward's yearning to be part of the power world.).
As the play tells it, society doctor Ward bought his way into the homes of the rich and powerful by providing girls, and Keeler went along for the swinging-sixties fun of it and because Ward's patronage protected her from a rougher crowd she had been in.
It was all sweet and lovely (except that most of the men were married) until the newspapers got hold of it, and Profumo's disgrace and Ward's death were terribly sad but nothing really to do with her.
Adams' play gets through most of the story moderately clearly, though it has to resort to telling rather than showing too often – some voice-over narration here, a montage of newspaper headlines there, a particularly clumsy one-sided telephone conversation full of exposition there, an epilogue telling us what happened to everyone afterwards (and with photos that are much more evocative than much of what happened onstage) – to be effective drama.
And Paul Nicholas's production is marred by too many performances that aren't very much different from good community theatre acting. Almost all the secondary cast walk uneasily through their roles, as if this were an early rehearsal and they still weren't quite sure where they should be standing, much less having any sense of their characters.
As Christine, Sarah Armstrong doesn't seem to know what to do with her (lovely) arms and legs, and though she tries to find a character in the blankness that has been written for her, constantly gives the impression that she really ought to be someplace else on the stage than where she is.
Only Paul Nicholas himself, playing Stephen Ward, has much success in creating a character – although he can't tie Ward's motives, actions and reactions together clearly, he does convey the guy's creepy oiliness in a way that gives him some theatrical energy.