Phil, unusually, understood Andrew instantly. New cockney rhyming slang for ennui. It will no doubt form a regular part of our lexicon.
Hard to believe it’s getting on for 4 years since the Whingers visited the composer’s last show and inadvertently caused something akin to a minor rumpus.
But this in not the behemoth of Love Never Dies. This take on the Profumo Affair – following Stephen Ward’s part in the scandal and the common consent that the establishment used him a scapegoat – is a decidedly small scale offering by comparison.
We thought it looked a bit drab and cheap by West End standards. “I’d like to see my money up there” mused Andrew at the interval, wallowing in the irony that he hadn’t paid a penny to see the show. “I think you are seeing it” replied Phil.
Rob Howell’s designs involve an awful lot of drapery swooshing around with more fabric than the second floor of John Lewis. The projections are a bit indistinct against the folds of the material and there’s so much opening and closing of curtains one is led to wonder if it’s intended as a rather saucily appropriate metaphor.
For those who don’t know what happened, it concerns two good time girls Christine Keeler* and Mandy Rice-Davies (performed by two Charlottes respectively, Spencer and Blackledge which must have added complications for director Richard Eyre at rehearsals “Could you drop your knickers please Charlotte?”) who fell in with Ward (Alexander Hanson), a high-society osteopath, artist and MI5 informer. Keeler had an alleged affair with a Russian naval attaché (Ian Conningham) whilst also liaising with John Profumo (Daniel Flynn, brother of Jerome) the Secretary of State for War leading Ward to stand trial accused of procurement and living off immoral earnings and subsequently his suicide before the verdict.
Praise the Lord! ALW has largely dropped the recitative. It’s not entirely sung-through. Although he still can’t resist having some dialogue warbled there are considerable chunks of Christopher Hampton‘s book, especially in the courtroom scenes, which can validate the ‘play with songs’ moniker.
Act 1 utilises a range of musical styles including reggae, leading Andrew to muse that it was more akin to Joseph than usual, though Phil thought this a tad generous. There’s a nightclub song “Super Duper Hula Hooper” that satisfied our spesh act predilections as, unsurprisingly, it involved some agreeable hula hooping and another called “Manipulation” that rather wears out the manipulation by authority/osteopathy similie.
We did chortle at Don Black‘s lyric “You’ve never had it so good. You’ve never had it so often” performed against a backdrop of mild S and M, sub/dom shenanigans and a few elderly gents in Y fronts. The clipped delivery of the number, rather bizarrely, reminded Phil of My Fair Lady‘s “Ascot Gavotte” but this orgy is barely, ahem, racier than that. Bravely, the title of the final number “Too Close To The Flame” stirs happy memories of that other splendid suicide musical “Too Close To The Sun“.
Stephen Mear (who Andrew now refers to as Mrs Meers) provides what limited choreography there is. There are brief glimpses of notorious figures from the sixties: Peter Rachman, the Krays and Robert Boothby among others, leading to unavoidable explanations of who they are to assist those in the audience slightly younger than us.
The acting’s mostly top notch. Hanson plays Ward with a louche charm and diffidence and has to sing an awful lot which he does extremely well. Joanna Riding makes a big impact in her surprisingly brief airing as Valerie Profumo (formerly the film star Valerie Hobson), her rendition – after finding out about her husband’s infidelity and subsequent lying to both her and his peers – of “I’m Hopeless When It Comes To You” is touchingly affecting.
Did we learn anything? Yes, that Rachman’s property empire was based in Notting Hill, that Ward manipulated Churchill and Ava Gardner on his table and that he ended up as a waxwork in the Chamber of Horrors at Blackpool’s Madame Tussauds (the framing device for the show) between Hitler and the acid bath murderer. Oh and that tarts are like taxi cabs. In the early sixties the meter started running at £5 and each lash of the whip after that a whacking £1, demonstrating that the cliché “no pain, no gain” is valid, if you happen to be a dominatrix.
Phil had already rather naughtily titled the show Leavin’ Bored and though he was a bit ‘Stephen’ at the interval it wasn’t quite the case by the end of the show. It fits everything into 2 hours 20 minutes (including interval) which is commendable but it does mean leaving some of the rather complex events out. You might, like us, end up flicking through Wikipedia afterwards to consolidate some of the details in your mind.
Despite being an interesting subject, the whole enterprise felt a bit old fashioned and we came away unable to remember a single tune. Hard to see it finding an audience and it’s unlikely the rather colourless title will help.
Well, we would say that, wouldn’t we?
Phil and Andrew’s preview tickets were generously supplied by officialtheatre.com
*Did anyone else think Nigella had asked for “the Christine Keeler look” when she made her appearances in court recently? No? Just Phil then.