Keeler (review). Anne Cox revisits the Profumo Affair

Christine Keeler (Sarah Armstrong) and John "Jack" Profumo (Michael Good) in Keeler at the Charing Cross Theatre, London. Photo by Irina Chira.
Christine Keeler (Sarah Armstrong) and John "Jack" Profumo (Michael Good) in Keeler at the Charing Cross Theatre, London. Photo by Irina Chira.

It’s 50 years since the Profumo Affair rocked British politics so it is inevitable that the scandal would be marked with a resurgence of interest.

In a month’s time Andrew Lloyd Webber opens a glossy new musical based around Stephen Ward, the mover and shaker who fixed it for a stable of beautiful girls, including cabaret dancers Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice Davies, to be enjoyed by the rich and powerful.

Keeler. Photo by Elliott Franks

Keeler. Photo by Elliott Franks

But, trying to spike their guns, a drama, authorised and based on Keeler’s own memoir, opened this week at the Charing Cross Theatre directed and starring Paul Nicholas.

Keeler is a badly written, poorly acted disappointment which does little other to provide any insight into the story that shook society and brought about the downfall of a government (but it does have a pleasing soundtrack of 1960s hits).

Ward was a 51-year-old celebrity osteopath who had connections with key figures in society, British and foreign politics. He was tried for pimping girls like Keeler but the truth sounds even more sordid in today’s climate. He sexually groomed a couple of 16-year-old beauties and then handed them around to his friends in order to gather useful pillow talk.

John Profumo, then Minister of War, was 48, when he met Keeler at a house party organised by Lord “Bill” Astor at his country seat Cliveden. Also present was a Russian attaché who, it seems, also shared a bed with the teenage beauty.

Profumo eventually tried to lie his way out of the situation when details of the affair were made public and it proved to be his undoing.

Keeler starts off with a voiceover where the character makes the point that as far as the public were concerned “She was just that naked bird on the chair, right?” And, sadly that’s the truth. The chair actually went on to much more fame and fortune. She had, and still has, little substance and certainly not enough about her to flesh out a whole play.

The final act relies a lot on court transcripts to pad it out but, at the end of the day, you’re left with a squalid little story about sleaze and a moment of madness in the lives of people who should have known better.

I hope 50 years of progress have changed attitudes, morals and behaviour but I doubt it. The only difference today is that we, sadly, probably wouldn’t bat an eyelid at the relationship.

Keeler runs at the Charing Cross Theatre, London, until November 30. For tickets and info call the box office 0844 493 0650 or visit www.charingcrosstheatre.co.uk

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