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Brief Encounter with... Stephen Ward star Alexander Hanson

Alexander Hanson, who has previously appeared in Andrew Lloyd Webber's ''Sunset Boulevard'' and more recently ''Jesus Christ Superstar'', has reunited with the composer to play the title role in ''Stephen Ward'', which premieres tonight

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How did you get involved with Stephen Ward?

I was doing Superstar for Andrew last year and we'd just opened at the O2. I knew nothing about this project at all, I didn't even know who Stephen Ward was. But Andrew told me he wanted me to meet Don Black and Christopher Hampton and we ended up doing a workshop. It was never a done deal that I would do it, but it all panned out.

Tell us more about the character

Stephen's not your obvious musical hero in that he's very flawed, but that makes him quite compelling. He was a society osteopath who also did sketches and drawings of his famous clients. He loved and craved access to the highest echelons of society, and was clever enough to always have a bevy of young girls by his side. To a degree there was an element of manipulation going on, which doesn't make him very attractive, but he ended up unfairly becoming the fall guy for a tottering Tory government and I found that very intriguing.

Did you know much about the Profumo Affair?

I was born in 1961 so I don't remember it but I knew the names Profumo and Christine Keeler. I'd also seen the film Scandal. When I told my mother I was playing Stephen Ward she said "oh how ghastly, he was a horrible man", because that was the line that was sold to the public. He was featured in the chamber of horrors at Blackpool.

This is your fourth Andrew Lloyd Webber project - what's he like to collaborate with?

He's great, and very demanding on the singing front. But he's also very demanding on himself - he lives for the show and is continually trying to make it better. He's as rich as Croesus but all he really wants to do is sit at that piano and compose. It's been a fascinating process watching him.

You're also reuniting with some of the creative forces behind Sunset Boulevard - what's it like working with them again?

It's been lovely, although when I did that show it was a takeover, so I didn't have a huge amount to do with Chris [Hampton] and Don [Black]. But this has been thrilling because they've been in the rehearsal room and there's been much more collaboration. They're both brilliant guys and true heavyweights.

There is some nudity in the show - do you get your kit off?

I don't actually. It was one of the first things I checked at the beginning of rehearsals!

You've switched very smoothly between plays and musicals, do you have a preference?

I trained as an actor and that was always what I wanted to do. But I did find quite early on in my career that I kept being cast in musicals. But they weren't necessarily good ones and in the end I decided to stick to 'straight' theatre for a time. So that sated me for a while and then I found a balance between the two.

What would you say to invoke us to see Stephen Ward?

Well for a start there are some great Andrew Lloyd Webber tunes in it, and secondly the subject matter has a universal resonance. We've all taken blame unjustifiably at some stage. And beyond that you've got Russian spies, pretty girls, aristocracy - all the ingredients of a glorious scandal. It's not just a sexy period but a socially fascinating one too. I think you'll be engaged by the evening, no doubt about it.

Which of the tunes do you think might be chart-toppers?

It's tricky for me because I've heard them so often. I love the melody of "Human Sacrifice" and "Manipulation", and there's a beautiful number that Joanna Riding sings ["I'm Hopeless When it Comes to You"]. I think the songs will get under people's skin.

How long are you contracted in the show?

It's a year from the first day of rehearsals, so the end of October 2014.

Any ideas for what you might want to do after?

A long, long holiday I think.

See Also: Andrew Lloyd Webber - 'Stephen Ward became a scapegoat for a number of things'