Stephen Ward: Andrew Lloyd Webber's Profumo Affair Musical Receives Critical Shrug

The reviews are in for new West End musical, Stephen Ward, based on the real life Profumo Affair. Whilst members of an older generation will be instantly familiar with Stephen Ward and the name's scandalous connotations, there will be many confused about the title of Don Black and Christopher Hampton's new play.

Charlotte Spencer
Charlotte Spencer Takes The Role Of Christine Keeler In 'Stephen Ward.'

The 1963 Profumo Affair was a political scandal named after John Profumo, who was the Secretary of State for War at the time and who engaged in an affair with the mistress of a soviet spy, Christine Keeler. Profumo was forced to resign after being found to have lied about the affair which in turn damaged the reputation of Prime Minister Harold Macmillan.

Stephen Ward the musical recounts the famous scandal from the point of view of the fashionable osteopath, Stephen Ward, who introduced Keeler to Profumo and who was made a scapegoat of on "vice" charges. Ward took a fatal overdose and was immortalised in a waxwork in the Blackpool Chamber of Horrors. The production has been brought to the West End's Aldwych theatre, making its debut at the start of the month.


Giving the musical a middling 3-star review, The Independent finds Stephen Ward to have several "witty touches" with "the odd surge of poignancy" in an "uneven musical play." The complicated affair makes for some "clod-hopping lyrics" but actor "Alexander Hanson's louche, beautifully sung Ward" was found to pull off an admirable performance.

Matching the 3-star review, The Guardian too wrestles with the clunky narration of an unsightly scandal framed with the musical's songs and theatrical flair, saying "Lloyd Webber's instinctive romanticism sits oddly with a social and political critique." Lloyd Webber's music neatly fits within the 1960s timeframe, with songs such as 'Super-Duper Hula-Hooper' mining the "tackiness" of nightclubs and the R&B-inflected 'Black-Hearted Woman' which plays as a "re-creation of high life debauchery" with its "lewd chorale."

Andrew Lloyd Webber Mandy Rice-Davies
Andrew Lloyd Webber & Mandy Rice Davies.

The Guardian praises that "Alexander Hanson plays Ward excellently," though laments that "we never get to fully understand Ward's character."

However, The Telegraph is markedly more positive, praising the "familiar yearning anthems [which] are interspersed with songs of wit and fun" and finding a lot of entertainment in the musical's "sense of mischief," citing in particular the orgy scene with its leather-masked "slave" and whip-toting dominatrix. Yet again, Hanson is lauded as "superb" whilst "Charlotte Spencer touchingly captures the initial gaucheness and vulnerability of Christine Keeler."


Those who enjoy Lloyd Webber at his most doomy and gothic are likely to turn their noses up at Stephen Ward. But for those who enjoy a little sing-song with their satire, particularly for those who lived through the scandal, are sure to find a lot more to enjoy.

Stephen Ward the musical is booking now until the 1st March 2014.


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Tags: Andrew Lloyd Webber


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