Stephen Ward, Aldwych theatre, review: Andrew Lloyd Webber’s never had it so... laboured

3.00

First night: Aldwych theatre, London

Andrew Lloyd Webber's crusading new musical proposes that the chief victim of the Profumo scandal of 1963 was not the disgraced Minister for War but Stephen Ward, the fashionable osteopath who introduced him to Christine Keeler.

As the Tory government tottered, the vengeful Establishment made a scapegoat of the sexually permissive Ward, who was framed on trumped-up "vice" charges and driven to taking a fatal overdose on the last day of what was virtually a show trial.

This uneven musical play, with a book by Christopher Hampton and sometimes clod-hopping lyrics by Don Black, puts Alexander Hanson's louche, beautifully sung Ward centre stage as narrator and protagonist and lets him mount his own defence. With framing scenes in the Blackpool Chamber of Horrors where he wound up a waxwork, he shows us how he became, in the words of the hypnotically sinuous first number, "a human sacrifice".

The show rather labours the contrast between the "manipulation" of osteopathy and of chicanery. "I stretch limbs while they stretch the truth," sings Ward, surveying the scheming habitués of Murray's Club (Lord Boothby, the Kray twins et al). "Manipulation, that’s the technique... This conversation must not leak," declares the Home Secretary at the disgraceful meeting with the heads of MI5 and the Met where they plot to silence Ward by pinning a crime on him.

The wordplay sounds a tad forced. There's a crude cartoony vigour, though, to the scenes in which News of the World hacks and dodgy detectives try to pervert the course of justice by brandishing chequebooks at Charlotte Spencer’s pert, damaged Keeler and threats at the unimpressed, resilient Mandy Rice-Davies (Charlotte Blackledge).

Neither Lord Astor, Ward's Cliveden landlord, nor Profumo was called as a witness at the trial, but Richard Eyre's eloquent production brings back the actors who play these fairweather friends (Anthony Calf and Daniel Flynn) as, respectively, prosecuting counsel and shamelessly hostile judge. Documentary footage of the heaving crowd outside the Old Bailey intensifies the lynch-mob atmosphere.

Lloyd Webber's eclectic score has its witty touches and the odd surge of poignancy. At a toffs' S&M orgy, the clipped tones of “ You’ve never had it so good/You’ve never had it so often” ironically recall a rather more sedate gathering: My Fair Lady’s “ Ascot Gavotte”.

But in the process of laudably trying to clear Ward’s name, the show runs the risk of sanitising him. His platonic relationship with Keeler is romanticised in a way that downplays the seedy voyeurism and his use of the girl as bait. At the end, as he swallows handfuls of pills, he is still proclaiming that "I invented a new way of life" and "All I ever cared about was simply being kind." But such is the dignity of his death that you are left disinclined to doubt these statements. And a little manipulated.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
    Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

    Edinburgh Fringe 2014

    The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried