It is 50 years since The Profumo Affair, the scandal in which the press ceased to show its traditional deference and went all out to expose a government. To mark the occasion, there has already been the play Keeler, which told the story from the point of view of the showgirl Christine.
Now Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new musical focuses on another of the protagonists, Stephen Ward. Ward served the great and the good as an osteopath, but when he befriended Keeler and introduced her to both Minister of Defence, John Profumo, and Soviet naval attaché, Yevgeny Ivanov, the press had a field day speculating on what secrets had been leaked to the USSR. Lloyd Webber’s musical focuses on how the government framed Ward to divert attention away from itself, and argues that Ward, who committed suicide during his subsequent trial, was the innocent victim.
The evening explores how Stephen, who was the friend of so many in high places, could then be left so exposed by those same people as they tried to cover their own backs. He is played by Alexander Hanson who steals the show with the sensitivity of his portrayal, and ability to connect with every audience member on an individual basis.
Musically, however, the evening is uneven. Some songs successfully evoke the spirit of the early 60s, but others merely feel as if they are supporting the lyrics. This actually proves effective in Hanson’s solos Human Sacrifice and Too Close To The Flame because he is so engaging, but across the numbers some rhymes of genius rub shoulders with others that just feel clunky.
A dinner party scene that suddenly breaks into an orgy with the diners singing Harold Macmillan’s immortal line You’ve Never Had It So Good proves successful because musical theatre lends itself to such hyperbolism. Overall, however, the noble attempt to enter Ward’s mind and expose a miscarriage of justice fits uneasily with those aspects of the affair – sex, drugs, shootings and court cases – that lend themselves most readily to this type of drama. In trying to take on so much, Stephen Ward somewhat falls between two stools.
Booking until 1 March 2014 at the Aldwych Theatre, 49 Aldwych, London WC2B 4DF. Tickets (£15-95): 0844 847 2379 or visit the Stephen Ward: The Musical website.
Londonist received a complimentary ticket and programme from Premier Comms.