The affair between Christine Keeler – a teenage showgirl – and John Profumo – the Secretary of State for War – illustrates perfectly a strange phenomenon that seems to be almost universal in the world of political sex scandals. They do always seem to involve the most unlikely couples and, frequently, the casual observer is left wondering how on earth they ever got together.
In this case the couple were introduced by Stephen Ward, a London osteopath, social climber and patron of the seedy Soho club where Keeler worked. It was he who engineered the situation which saw Keeler living platonically with him whilst being simultaneously involved not only with Profumo but also with Eugene Ivanov, a Russian attaché. The catastrophic consequences of their affairs are well documented – and therein lies a problem
Paul Nicholas’s production of Keeler (he is producer, director and also takes the role of Stephen Ward) is based upon her bookThe Truth at Last. Unfortunately the book contained very little new information, simply rehashing what was already public knowledge. The script for the play has the same faults.
Instead of an inside look at the truth behind the headlines, the audience is simply fed set pieces that basically regurgitate times, places and dates that have some importance in the story. Many of the set pieces are linked by the use of showgirls whose dance routines help to pad out a mercifully short performance but whose semi-nakedness just appears gratuitous and tacky.
Alice Coulthard as Keeler tries very hard to work with the poor script but she also ends up appearing naked, and again this seems to be for reasons of titillation rather than plot development. The characters of Ivanov Andrew Grose and Profumo Andrew Piper never really develop sufficiently for the audience to form any kind of emotional attachment to them and what we are left with is a play that would have been more aptly titled for Stephen Ward.
Nicholas has developed a vehicle in which he appears in almost every scene, dominates most of the scenes in which he features and yet still manages to deliver a performance that is terrifically dull. In fact there is only one scene where he displays sufficient emotion for the audience to divert their gaze from what has to be one of the worst wigs in theatrical history.
A disappointing production that looks good but promises a lot more than it delivers.