Keeler, Richmond Theatre, September 2011Posted on 24 September 2011
Christine Keeler is a name to conjure with, but this play is really about Stephen Ward, the fashionable osteopath and portrait painter who committed suicide after the Profumo scandal blew up in 1963. He is portrayed here as a very nasty piece of work, a man who, on behalf of Russian Intelligence, was using Keeler to extract information on nuclear capabilities and British negotiations with Kennedy in the cold war stand-off with Khrushchev. Cold, manipulative and ruthless, but how true is all this?
Those who met Ward found him absolutely charming, but that’s not how Paul Nicholas played him. On the contrary, he came over as cold and uncaring. There must have been another side, and the same goes for Alice Coulthard’s Keeler, who veered between irritation and acquiescence. Whatever it was that men found so attractive didn’t come over, but that may be due to the director, who also played Ward. Andrew Piper as Profumo, like Paul Nicholas as Ward, spoke with a somewhat upper class 1960s accent, but it was too tense. Those accents were spoken in a more relaxed way at the time, so their performances sounded unnatural.
This play by Gill Adams moved very slowly at the beginning, and Act I seemed to be going nowhere, but Act II, which dealt with the really interesting stuff, went by at lightning speed. Profumo made his announcement to the House, saying his relationship with Keeler was never inappropriate, then appeared shortly thereafter to deny his claim. What happened? We don’t see the pressure or understand the emotions leading to the sudden reversals at the end. Keeler herself comes over as pretty dull, which may be intellectually accurate, but in representing her jaded recollections of what happened this play failed to give an account of what it all felt like at the time.
Performances at Richmond continue until September 24, after which it tours: Alhambra Theatre, Bradford, September 27–October 1; Grand Theatre Swansea, October 3–8; Opera Theatre, York, October 17–22; Churchill Theatre, Bromley, October 24–29; Festival Theatre, Malvern, October 31–November 5; The Royal Theatre, Brighton, November 7–12; Grand Theatre Wolverhampton, November 14–19.