Stephen Ward the Musical review - December 2013

For a show filled with potential and a strong talented cast, Stephen Ward is Surpisingly Underwhelming.

As a big Andrew Lloyd Webber fan, I was thrilled to hear a new show by the man himself was coming my way! Further to that, on learning that the hotly anticipated musical was to be based on the biggest sex scandal of the 1960’s, I was frankly gleeful; sex, drugs and 60’s swinging sounds like my cup of tea (or cold glass of Bollinger) and would be a welcome breath of fresh air in the world of West End musicals. However on watching the show I have to say my dreams of 60’s opulence laced with juicy scandal were somewhat dashed.

I will start with the shows merits, because it really did have some fantastic redeeming features, best of which were the two leading ladies. Charlotte Spencer portrays Christine Keeler, the saucy young lady who generates scandal by sleeping with British War minister, John Profumo and Russian naval civil servant Yevgeny "Eugene" Ivanov, whilst Charlotte Blackledge portrayed the doe eyed Mandy Rice-Davies. The pair were a true light on a dark and dreary stage, with their duo on 1963 proving very entertaining. Spencer was fantastic at encapsulating the sultry yet naïve essence of Keeler, whilst Blackledge perfectly summed up the joy of being a good time gal.

Act 1 was fun and pacey, with the raunchy show number “You’ve Never Had It So Good” providing a welcome insight into the sexual underground of the decade of free love and liberation. The number benefitted from a full cast, which was a rarity in the show. However sadly “You’ve Never Had it So Good” along with Joanna Riding’s powerhouse of a ballad “I’m Hopeless When it Comes to You,” were the only stand out songs in an otherwise forgettable soundtrack.

More mundane than the music was Rob Howell’s stage design. From the man that brought us the Oliver Award winning colour explosion of a set for Matilda, I was disappointed to see a simple black curtain as the backdrop to one of the Worlds most famous sex scandals! I was expecting opulence and vibrancy, instead the set was dark and dreary, which did no favours to the story, which I truly believe would have made a better lasting impression had it looked better. Moreover the cheap set seemed a kick in the teeth to some audience members who pay around £90 a premium ticket – if I were them I’d be wondering where exactly my money was being spent.

Whilst Act 1 was relatively fun and enjoyable, Act 2 dragged with a series of police and courtroom scenes. Gone was the racy revelry of the first act, and we are left to watch a judge deliberate whether a man should be sent to jail for being a pimp without a great deal of explanation or emphasis on why exactly the turn of events were such a scandal?

All credit to the Lord for trying something new, I mean we can’t all expect him to churn out an endless stream of “Phantom’s” forevermore. However what I love most about Lloyd Webber’s musicals is that they all seem to have a sense of heart. Sadly with Stephen Ward I just couldn’t emotionally engage with the story at all. The only moment of real raw emotion comes from Riding’s Act 2 ballad as Profumo’s jilted wife, but it’s over as soon as it began and she is carted off into the wings, where Ms Riding certainly doesn’t belong! For a show filled with potential and a strong talented cast, I think the delivery of the piece needs a rethink.

Margret Thatcher once famously claimed that Andrew Lloyd Webber was a great British export, however I can’t see Stephen Ward racking in the big bucks, let alone entertaining audiences across the pond.

19 December 2013, Aldwych Theatre