Make a musical of the Profumo scandal? Well, they would, wouldn't they? Sleaze, sex, espionage, the start of the Swinging Sixties: the only surprise is that it has taken so long. But this piece - by Marek Rymaszewski, Richard Alexander and a flock of additional contributors - is a puzzling affair. On the one hand, it's a serious attempt to get to grips with a scandal that helped to bring about the fall of the Macmillan government and it has its own intelligent point of view on the material. On the other, the musical format pushes it into emotionally clichéd postures, so that the overall result is not always illuminating contradiction.
"Mac says we've never had it so good/ Well we've had it as many times as we could," sing the showgirls at the London club, where the charms of young Christine Keeler first came to the attention of Stephen Ward (impressively played here by James Clyde). A Model Girl filters the proceedings through the darkening fate of this society osteopath, whose high-class pimping led Keeler into having simultaneous affairs with Jack Profumo, Minister for War, and the Russian spy Eugene Ivanov.
It makes a persuasive case that Ward was the tragic fall-guy - abandoned by MI5 and the toffs who had used his services, and pursued with suspect intensity by the police. But because this is a musical, the portrait of him is over-romanticised. Songs such as "World at our Feet" and "A Model Girl" suggest that there was a dazzled, idealistic element in his desire to make Keeler a star and that he identified with her outsider status - an area of fellow-feeling that is highlighted again when they are both tossed to the wolves. "Angel of my life... Go and live your life on me," he implores her in a heartfelt ditty sung between consuming a bottle of pills and death.
As Keeler, Emma Williams has a pure, strong voice that sounds great in the Sixties-flavoured numbers, and through sheer acting skill she manages to convince you that the character somehow retained a core of uncorrupted innocence.
Clunkily staged by Ruth Carney, with wooden sequences involving the hack pack in full hue and cry, "Gossip, gossip/ Rumour, rumour", the musical does have one piquantly original scene, where Dale Rapley's Profumo responds in the Commons to troublesome Labour MP George Wigg. This must surely be the first time in the history of the genre where there has been a duet at the despatch box.
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