Great story deserves better telling

That picture: Alice Coulthard in the iconic Christine Keeler pose, Lewis Morley's celebrated picture of the naked showgirl straddling an Arne Jacobsen chair from 1963, a picture which became of symbol of both the 1960s and the Profumo affair.

Keeler

Malvern Festival Theatre

***

A MIX OF SEX, politics and spies, Keeler is based on the best selling book The Truth At Last by Christine Keeler and Douglas Thompson and tells the sensational story of one of the defining moments of the 20th century.

In 1961, a naive 19-year old show girl was at the heart of a scandal which rocked the Conservative government.

Christine Keeler was introduced to the upper echelons of society by the osteopath Stephen Ward at Lord Astor's country estate; she went on to have affairs with John Profumo, then Secretary of State for War and, at the same time, Yevgeni Ivanov, a Soviet naval attaché. The tangled web ended in Keeler's imprisonment, Ward's suicide and Profumo's resignation, and heralded the beginning of the end for Harold Macmillan's government

The play, written by Gill Adams with Christine Keeler's sanction, reveals the inside story of the biggest political sex scandal to rock the British nation last century, but fails to add any richness to a story that shocked the nation and is really a re-hash of a sequence of events but with some strange directional choices and mediocre dialogue.

The show opens with sizzling showgirls who are the allure to Ward and his world of influential friends.

Scenes are effectively carried out amidst a back drop of defining images and unfolding political events of the swinging sixties.

However, although there is a mingle of miniskirts, dinner parties, drugs, sex and alcohol, Keeler seems to lack the ambience that was emerging post the Cold War during this period.

The set is minimal and a little bland; with only a vague attempt to create an atmosphere as dancing girls intervene each scene with staged choreography, scantily clad wearing not much more than a few feathers and delicately placed tassels.

Paul Nicholas as Stephen Ward and Alice Coulthard as Christine Keeler

The red Speedos sported by the Russian attaché played by Andrew Grose left little to the imagination and were paraded on stage for what felt like an uncomfortable length of time. There is even some full frontal nudity but of the gratuitous kind.

Paul Nicholas directs and produces Keeler, and does redeem himself somewhat by playing a wonderfully charming and laid back Ward (despite his rather ridiculous bouffant wig), the pivotal character around which all the other characters revolve.

Alice Coulthard, best known for her wild child role in Emmerdale, does a good job in portraying the promiscuous Keeler, whilst also showing her vulnerability. But at times there is a lack of emotion between the two main characters.

There is some irony in the fact that Keeler herself has been closely involved in the production, clearly seeking some sort of sanction and possible self preservation but instead, the play leaves us with the notion that as a mere muse of Ward she did actually commit a criminal offence by perjuring herself even though a victim of exploitation in a seedy world of powerful men.

The court scene in which Profumo, played with suitable pomp and ceremony by Andrew Piper, confesses and resigns flowed well, but only alluded to the excitement that was building up around the country as the scandal unfolded.

For those blissfully young enough not to remember the Profumo affair, this play at best can be educational but so much more could have been made of the beginning of the invasive tabloids or the political ramifications of this saga as it dictated the future of events for the Conservative party from 1963.

For those that do remember, it is a conspicuous comparison to today's news where political sex scandals are less alarming as attitudes have changed and we can no longer believe the assumption that those in power are trustworthy.

This isn't a complete disaster, but Keeler is a great story to tell and one cannot help feeling there is a missed opportunity here.To 05-11-11

Johanna Brand 

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