BWW Reviews: STEPHEN WARD, Aldwych Theatre, Dec 20 2013
Andrew Lloyd Webber's newest work, Stephen Ward, is a musical portrayal of the Profumo Affair - the 1960s sex scandal that led a secretary of state to lie to Parliament, and which resulted in the death of a "society osteopath", accused of living off the "immoral earnings" of teenage showgirls.
Whilst Richard Eyre's attempt to use the theatre to share such injustice with its audience is admirable, the explanation of the scandal is lengthy, taking too long to reach the crux of the story. Due to the necessity of detail, the musical numbers often feel forced and unnatural, allowing only a couple of glimpses of Lloyd Webber's brilliance. Numbers such as "This Side of the Sky" and "Too Close to the Flame" reassure the audience that this was a credible musical, in contrast to the many weaker numbers. However, Eyre is very successful in his risqué and overtly sexual portrayal of the 1960s with the audience waking up for the appropriately shocking S and M number 'You've Never Had It So Good'.
Whilst the authorial and directorial stance on the scandal is very obvious, the portrayal of Ward's character in the opening scenes is uncomfortable. Alexander Hanson has the almost impossible task of having to win the audience back from their unease at his pursuit of Christine Keeler. The explanation of their platonic relationship leaves much to be desired as it is not explored thoroughly enough to really seem plausible. However, Hanson portrays Ward as well as the book and lyrics by Christopher Hampton and Don Black would allow.
Charlotte Spencer, as Christine Keeler, steals the show with a believability that allows the audience to witness her transformation from a vulnerable girl to a salacious woman. Charlotte Blackledge should also be commended for her West End debut, a sparky and convincing portrayal of Mandy Rice-Davis, although she is somewhat overshadowed during her duets with Spencer. Both girls look eerily similar to the women they are portraying, adding to their credible performances. Joanna Riding, as Profumo's wife Valerie Hobson, also shines in her elegant performance of 'I'm Hopeless When It Comes to You'.
The wonderful scenery plays cleverly with the use of curtains and projectors to emulate real life scenes such as the countryside in Cliveden and The News of the World offices, reducing the need for too much exposition about the setting.
The show might succeed in persuading the audience of Ward's innocence, but the overladen narrative, packed with detail, makes the evening feel a little stop-start.