Who will inspire Lloyd Webber’s genius after Stephen Ward?

This latest show could see the blooming of a new musical genre


Hooray, the new Andrew Lloyd Webber musical is almost upon us. It’s called Stephen Ward, and concerns the chap at the centre of the Profumo scandal. We’ve been celebrating, if that’s the word, the 50th anniversary of the event for months, remarking on the vividness of the main characters, the good-time girls, the poshos, the diplomats, the druggies.

This scandal had everything.  But calling the musical Stephen Ward – it’s just not a musical name, is it? It’s a far cry from South Pacific, or My Fair Lady. And when playgoers around the world ask: “Who is this person about whom Lord Lloyd Webber has written one of his brilliant musicals?” what will the answer be? “He was a freelance osteopath who lived in Chelsea, knew lots of people, was abandoned by them all and committed suicide.” There have been more unlikely musical projects (Evita for instance) but not many that focus on the life of a doomed paramedical man-about-town living in a time of turmoil. We can only speculate where Lloyd Webber will go from here:

Li Zhi Sui. A musical insight into the court of Mao Tse-Tung, a place of decadence, cruelty, political intrigue and sexual excess, seen through the eyes of Mao’s personal physician. Learn about the dictator’s undescended testicle, his lack of hygiene and his catastrophic Utopian statism. Songs include the catchy “I Put My Faith in Purges,” and the hilarious ballad about the Great Helmsman’s haemorrhoids, “How Do You Solve a Problem Like My Rear?”

Edward Nettleship.  Musical exploration of late-Victorian values through the relationship between Queen Victoria and her eye specialists. When royal physician Sir James Reid (Olly Murs) discovers Her Majesty has cataracts, he summons the nation’s top ophthalmologist, Nettleship (John Barrowman) to confirm his suspicions. The Queen calls in Edward’s hated rival, Hermann Pagenstecher (Michael Bublé) for a second opinion. Anglo-Germanic wounds open. Featuring the irresistible “I Can’t See Clearly Now.”

Silas Lowering. Grim but evocative musical set in 19th-century Yorkshire, as recorded in the diaries of local GP Silas. His most famous patients were the Brontë family at Haworth Parsonage, where Dr Lowering was often called to attend the sisters’ fainting fits and their brother Branwell’s alcoholic ravings. At the climax Emily is found to have Asperger’s, as well as early-onset TB. Songs include “My Resistance is Low,” and the sparkling “Coughing in My Coffin.”

Rene-Theophile-Hyacinthe Laennec. Hilarious depiction of post-Revolutionary France from the perspective of the inventor of the stethoscope. With dancing sans-culottes, working guillotine and lots of bare chests. Songs include “I Can Hear Your Heartbeat (Through My New Invention)” and “Just Breathe Normally Please, Brigitte.”  Unmissable.

It’s all bread and butter politics

I’m struggling to work out the right answer to that crucial Tory Conference question: “Do you know the price of a supermarket loaf of bread?” Does anyone know the price of individual items in supermarkets? Don’t we just stand and marvel at the total bill when we get to the checkout?

Would we respect our party leaders if they spent hours memorising the cost of tinned tomatoes or cartons of Oxo cubes? But I know why David Cameron made his evasive “I’ve-got-a-bread-machine” reply. Because, if he were being absolutely truthful, he’d have said: “Supermarket bread? Sorry, you mean the Waitrose Organic Multi-Seeded Pave (£1.74) or the Gail’s Bakery White Sourdough (£2.89).”

And that’s not really a vote-winning answer, is it?

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