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Sexy showgirl fails to seduce

Unholy alliance: Alice Coulthard as Christine Keeler and Paul Nicholas as Stephen Ward

Keeler

Wolverhampton Grand

***

SCANDAL, in these ‘kiss and tell'  days, is hardly shocking anymore. Straying footballers, randy politicians and celebrity shenanagins still grace the red tops and clearly a public, obsessed by the private lives of the famous, lap it all up.

Far from being shocked, though, society accepts it as the tittle-tattle of modern life.

But in the early 1960s, things were very different. In 1961, the ‘summer of love' had yet to arrive and Britain, still in post war recovery, retained an air of respectability and order.

High establishment figures such as politicians and royalty were assumed and expected  to be squeaky clean and certainly above the kind of behaviour that was about to rock the foundations of power, leading ultimately to the downfall of the incumbent government.

Christine Keeler was a showgirl. She worked the revue bars of Soho, giving glimpses of feather covered flesh to sleezy crowds of men ‘with only one thing on their mind' . In her head, she was no ‘object'. She talked about being ‘empowered' by her performances  - aware of what she was doing to the imaginations of the mostly male crowd, but keeping them at arms length. That, at least, was the theory.

When ‘society osteopath' Stephen Ward walked into the club one night, though, Keelers's life was about to change. Ward took her under his wing, inviting her to move in with him. As always, though, there was a condition. Ward was well connected - he knew his high profile friends would lap up this new ingénue about town. Parties followed, introductions were made and money changed hands. Everyone wanted a piece, and Ward was happy to cash in.  The Pimp and the showgirl were quite a team.

Alice Coulthard in THAT famous Keeler pose, recreating Lewis Morley's 1963 portrait of the naked showgirl straddling an Arne Jacobsen chair

John Profumo, a high ranking, married politician was a guest at one of Ward's parties. Smitten by Keeler, he embarked on a month long affair with her. All this may well have have never come to light though, had Keeler not also an affair with a Russian spy, Yevgeny Ivanov.

It was this affair that rocked the boat and fuelled  one of the most intriguing court cases of the decade. Worried that Keeler might pass on secret information (Britain was, after all, in the grip of the cold War ) during her dangerous liaisons with her Soviet lover, the powers-that-were knew they had to take action.

As details of her affair with Ivanov unfolded, the tryst with Profumo was also exposed - leading him to retract his earlier statement that he had not had relations with Keeler. The scandal was reaching boiling point and proving deeply embarrassing for Macmillan's government.

The story has perfect ingredients for a stage play. Sex. Intrigue. Power. Tension.  On top of that it's a true story  - one that some in the audience would actually remember - so it could and should be an edge of the seat cracker.  

Sadly, it fails to deliver. It feels ‘thin' and somewhat drawn out in parts.  The information is there - either as projections of newspaper headlines or within the dialogue - but too often the action onstage is just not particularly exciting or engaging.  

There is little connection with the main characters and consequently the audience felt little or no sympathy. The woman in the audience who proclaimed at some volume ‘She's just a bit common, really, ain't she?' may well have lacked theatre etiquette but she had a point. Keeler was more than that, of course, but on this evidence it is hard to see.

Paul Nicholas's Stephen Ward has undoubted charisma. Nicholas has spent his career playing characters with charm and it's not out of place here. Ward, despite his purely profit driven agenda, must have been an engaging individual given the company he kept.

Alice Coulthard certainly looks the part as Christine Keeler - something  of a dream role for an actress. Coulthard pitches her just right - portraying a hardened soul getting increasingly out of her depth.

At times, dialogue was underplayed - even inaudible. Certain scenes needed cutting or at least given more pace. Crucially, the courtroom scene was one of them. Staging decisions, too, seemed odd.  Coulthard stepping into a clearly empty swimming pool, against no hint of ‘water sound' or even covering music, was clumsy as was the sliding door that wouldn't slide.

It almost has a feel of a play that needs a couple more drafts.  There is a real opportunity here to tell a cracking good yarn.  Sadly, for now, it's been missed. To 19-11-11.

Tom Roberts

And from the other side of the chamber . . .

***

MAYBE it's because we have become accustomed to Parliamentary scandals these days, but this tale of how a government Minister was brought down by a young showgirl is more interesting than shocking.

The play is based on Christine Keeler's autobiography, The Truth at Last, but it doesn't tell the audience much more than many already knew about Secretary of State for War John Profumo's sordid affair with the attractive teenager nearly 50 years ago.

Unless it's the scene where the MP has sex with the girl on a settee without removing his pin stripes!

There are other titillating moments, with former Emmerdale star Alice Coulthard stepping naked from a swimming pool, giving married 'Jack' the lad Profumo his first sight of her, and scantily-clad, shapely showgirls gyrating to music at various stages. But that's it.

Coulthard is certainly a convincing Keeler and there is a fine performance from Paul Nicholas as society osteopath Stephen Ward, who introduced her to various influential people, including Russian naval attaché and spy Captain Ivanov (Andrew Grose)

Ward eventually took his own life and Profumo, having first assured the House of Commons that his relationship with Keeler had been entirely proper, subsequently resigned when the truth came out.

Produced and directed by Nicholas, Keeler runs to 19.11.11

Paul Marston

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