“She’s that naked girl on that chair right?”
The story of Keeler that is told here purports to be the inside story of the Profumo Affair and is based on Christine Keeler’s own book on the matter with Douglas Thompson, The Truth At Last. Gill Adams is credited as the playwright, although curiously does not merit a biography in the programme and as it actually turns out, Keeler exercised much control over the writing of the play, approving every single word. Thus what we are left with is a heavily partisan account of someone concerned with redressing the balance of public perception in her favour, hardly the makings of great drama.
We revisit the scandal of the early 1960s from its beginnings in the Soho club where she worked as a titillating dancer and was spotted by the sleazily avuncular eye of Stephen Ward, an osteopath with grand designs on society. It was he who introduced her to the high society party lifestyle that brought with it brief but heady affairs with, amongst others, John Profumo, secretary of state for war, and Eugene Ivanov, a Soviet naval attaché. When this came to light in the paranoid Cold War atmosphere, one of the first public scandals of its nature, the ensuing trials, resignations, suicides and infamous photo shoots shocked the nation.
But Keeler adds nothing new to this oft-told story, whether through the words of Keeler herself or the outside influence of Adams. There’s no attempt to frame it as the beginnings of an invasive tabloid culture that has spectacularly imploded this year or explore the political ramifications it had at a time just before the 60s really started swinging. Instead we get a pointless, undramatic rehash which is further crippled by terrible dialogue, little attempt at characterisation, wooden acting and some truly painful directorial choices dragged over two hours complete with unnecessary interval.
Paul Nicholas, who serves as director and producer, as well as taking on the lead male role of Ward has approached this piece as a period piece with a 60s soundtrack attempting to generate some ambience but the overall effect is one of a dusty relic. There’s no directorial flair here that might compensate for the oh so conventional structure and bland characterisations, the use of dancing girls to intersperse scenes with their breast-baring (but pasties-covered) antics feels horribly, leeringly lascivious once we’ve left the cabaret club very early on and isn’t really countered by the posturing a red speedo that closes the first act. Nicholas’ own performance as Stephen Ward, who is given huge prominence in this play not least by a mightily bouffanted wig, is somehow both ridiculously overblown in its caricature stylings and yet curiously unremarkable and unmemorable for one who is meant to be so pivotal.
Alice Coulthard as Keeler is solid but oddly muted, but then she is given so little to work with though lumbered with a rather gratuitous nude scene, there’s just no real sense of emotion coming through to add a little richness to the telling of this story. And there’s something a little tiresome about the incessant ‘little girl lost’ characterisation, we’re never allowed to forget she feels hard done by – “they said I would get six months, I got nine…” is delivered with the kind of moue that is supposed to touch the heart and assumedly make us forget that she had actually committed a criminal offence by perjuring herself. As far as this play is concerned though, that was far from the only criminal offence.