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Gill Adams new play, based on Christine Keeler's autobiography The Truth at Last, premieres at the Charing Cross Theatre

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars
Sarah Armstrong (Christine Keeler) and Paul Nicholas (Stephen Ward) in Keeler
© Francis Loney

Only when you see a play as bad as Keeler do you appreciate the skills of storytelling and dramatic highlighting we enjoy at the vast majority of theatrical enterprises; there's a ground-level standard of narrative competence most plays achieve before inviting a discussion about their technical presentation.

Not so, alas, with Keeler by Gill Adams, who has merely filleted a few stories from the memoirs of Christine Keeler, a call girl at the centre of the Profumo Scandal in 1963, and left them sitting around on the stage of what used to be known as the Players Theatre, home of music hall, pantomime burlesque and launch pad of The Boy Friend.

Dim memories, maybe, but how we longed for them last night. The one thing Adams has done in her play is shift the emphasis onto Stephen Ward, the tragic society osteopath who first introduced Keeler to John Profumo, a cabinet minister in the Macmillan government, at a house party of Lord Astor at Cliveden.

Does this sound suddenly familiar? Yup, this little shindig's coming right up in Stephen Ward, the new Andrew Lloyd Webber musical scripted by Christopher Hampton and Don Black at the Aldwych next month. In that show, Ward will start out as a waxwork in Madame Tussauds. In this one, he stays that way all evening.

So Keeler could be dubbed what's known in the trade as a spoiler; except that this show couldn't steal anyone's thunder if it tried. No character emerges with any great credit (actually, no character emerges full stop), though Paul Nicholas as Stephen Ward seems curiously concerned to be doing the right thing all the time even as the noose tightens around his neck and his obsession with Sarah Armstrong's vapid lookalike Keeler leads him into ever murkier diplomatic waters.

Nicholas, who has also directed the farrago, adopts a monotone delivery, as if distancing himself from the script even as it drops to the floor with a dull thud. There's a hint of liveliness in the opening at Murray's Club and a trailer for the new musical, perhaps, in a second act show girl routine. And we're left, naturally, with a recreation of the famous iconic image of Keeler sitting naked astride a chair in a photographer's studio.

Otherwise, everyone sits around doing their own personal impression of a speaking clock, and that includes Stacy Leeson as Mandy Rice Davies, Michael Good as Profumo, Andrew Harrison as Lord Astor and Alex Dower as the spy who came in from the Cold War, Eugene Ivanov. This is not so much a case of back to the drawing board as let's call the whole thing off.


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