Theatre review: Profumo, the Musical - This crass production should leave Andrew Lloyd Webber with nothing to fear

 

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The Independent Culture

You wait years for a musical about the Profumo Affair and then along come two in quick succession. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the scandal, in which the liaison between the Minister of War and a call girl who was concurrently sleeping with the naval attache at the Russian embassy, rocked the Establishment and helped to bring down the Tory government of Harold Macmillan.

In December, Andrew Lloyd Webber weighs in with his latest show, Stephen Ward, which promises to view the proceedings from the perspective of the well-connected osteopath who made the introductions and was hounded to his death as the scapegoat for society's vindictive sexual hypocrisy. Stepping in ahead of this, though, is Profumo, the Musical by Gordon Kenney which has just had a brief showcase in Matthew Lloyd Davies's robustly performed minimal staging at the tiny Waterloo East Theatre. 

It would be the understatement of the season to suggest that Lloyd Webber has little to fear from this alternative project which lurches from one crassly conceived and executed number to another, giving a bewilderingly rough-and-ready sense of the tricky socio-political context. 

The tone is calculatedly bumpy and irreverent but I'm afraid that I found the musical's attempts to be earnest a good deal funnier than its forays into breezy caricature. Only a heart of stone could fail to laugh at the patronising compassion inflicted on Profumo's wife, the screen actress, Valerie Hobson, who warbles “I can't live without his love/O please somebody help me from above”. Contrast this with the mirth-free presentation of Harold Wilson and Barbara Castle as a pair of northern music-hall clowns (“So put the kettle on and we'll have a cup of tea/Soon the working classes will be free”) who here gingerly recruit a jokey, sanitised version of the Kray twins to help them flush out the scandal. 

The score is competent pastiche and cheerfully a bit anachronistic – a song like “Bloodsucker”, in which Stephen Ward smooches with his young protegees, Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies, sounds, to my ear, like raunchy late 60s R&B.  Dramatically, though, the piece is so rushed and chaotic that the take on this trio comes across as incoherent rather than contradictory and it weirdly fails to emphasise the unholy collusion between the police and the press that invests the story with a  renewed topicality in the age of the Leveson Inquiry.

“You, you, you – you never had it so good,” we're told by the introductory chorus.  If Profumo, the Musical is ever resurrected in this draft, audiences may beg to differ. 

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