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Not quite a 'Stephen Bored'
on 14 July 2014
My problem with the title still remains: Stephen Ward is not the title of a musical. It relies on a decent knowledge of the Profumo affair- i.e. knowledge beyond the fact that there was probably someone called Profumo involved. If you're going to use a name, it better have an obvious resonance. There was a musical about the Profumo affair in 2007 actually, called A Model Girl- a much better title.
The second problem- that young audiences won't be familiar with the material- is not necessarily a problem. After all, how many people watching Evita are au fait with South American politics?. The fact that it was the fiftieth anniversary of the events meant that Stephen Ward's trial might pop up in the papers, and therefore people who were around at the time have a reason to remember it. And yes, the parallels with modern celebrity and the culture of scapegoating makes the show relevant; although ALW banks a little too much on this parallel.
For example, we get lots of songs showing the music of the time. The sixties' pastiches are very enjoyable- songs like 'Super Duper Hula Hooper' and 'Black-Hearted Woman'. ALW's strength has always been in creating a popular sound and as the sixties were his teenage years, he should know about the 'sound of the sixties'. Then we get songs showing the culture of the time: Cold War fears in 'Mother Russia, While We Can' and swinging orgies in 'You've Never Had It So Good'. The latter is a kinky version of Ascot Gavotte, with the assumption that Fifty Shades of Grey has whetted our appetites for such things. It is funny but not as witty as it could be; more of the simple Carry On type humour. Then we have police interviews, press interviews and the trial- all sung of course.
You might well wonder where the characters are. We've had a whole Who's-Who of them in the song 'Manipulation', which has a very clumsy conceit where Christine Keeler doesn't recognise the name Harold Macmillan, so of course Stephen has to remind her that he's the Prime Minister! To be fair, the song is entertaining and makes a nice introduction into a world where all the real political decisions are made between the sheets. However, these type of scene-setting songs make up the bulk of Stephen Ward. As another reviewer has said, there's also a touch of pastoralism in the songs that are essentially dialogue sung to music (You're So Very Clever To Have Found This). It's strongly reminiscent of Aspects of Love; you half expect to hear Michael Ball.
The opening number, Human Sacrifice, has elements of a character song but Stephen (sung by Alexander Hanson) is also the narrator so it's a story introduction maninly. We now know the figure and mystery of Stephen Ward the historical figure but not what he's like as a character- what makes him tick. The summary we get from this song is he's just a nice bloke who likes to play the field but there's no real indication as to what drives him to this orgy lifestyle. Stephen also has no love interest, as in real life Christine Keeler had a strictly platonic relationship with him. ALW knows how to write a nice love song but he doesn't get enough chances here.
Another song, 1963, works well on both sound and character as teenage call girls Christine Keeler (Charlotte Spencer) and Mandy Rice Davies (Charlotte Blackridge) sing of their hopes and dreams of fame and celebrity.