Off we went last night to a preview of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s latest show, Stephen Ward: The Musical. When I told people, they pretty much all said, ‘what an odd idea for a musical!’ and I suppose I was hoping that it would all make sense when we were there. To be honest, I’m not sure it really did.
My parents’ generation were, and remain, fascinated by the Profumo affair, which proved that a lot of people were having sex in the sixties, including Cabinet ministers, nobs and probably the Royal family. The trouble is that I think we’ve got over the shock now.
It was all beautifully done, and everyone sang and danced tremendously. Stephen Ward was a figure of pathos. The notorious call girls, Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice Davies, were present, correct and apparently ready to shag anything. It just all seemed terribly one dimensional. The girls jiggled around hardly dressed, while the politicians were rotund and ridiculous in Y-fronts. It was all very Dejeuner sir l’Herbe. Perhaps I’m being naive, but you do expect a better class of scandal nowadays. Even in tawdry sex tapes, Paris Hilton and her ilk come over as actual personalities. Far from being exploited, the likes of Jordan and the Khardashians have built veritable empires out of their own assets. Keeler and Rice Davies, by contrast, were portrayed as hopeless dimwits, with scarcely a brain cell to rub between them. It seems unbelievably unlikely that Keeler, as shown here, was capable of passing secrets from Profumo to the Russian spy Ivanov (the crux of the scandal). You’d be quite surprised if she managed to remember her own name, poor dear.
Either a lot of the truth of the Profumo affair remains locked in some secret vault in Somerset House to this day, or there was a gaping hole at the centre of the story which even Andrew Lloyd Webber’s tunes could not fill.
Even Mandy Rice Davies’ unforgettable line during Ward’s trial, ‘he would, wouldn’t he?’ (on hearing that Lord Astor had denied sleeping with her) was glossed over so quickly that we scarcely noticed it. A missed opportunity. That reminded me strongly of another bravura court appearance this week, from Nigella Lawson. While Lloyd Webber’s musical made the women into mute victims, Lawson, who was not even on trial herself, defended her own reputation with ferocious and admirable vigour. However much Saatchi may have bullied her in their ten year marriage, those days are done. Three cheers for her and, when her life eventually gets turned into a musical, it really will be worth watching.