Tuesday, September 20, 2011


When theatre, or film for that matter, tackles a real life story the writer’s challenge is to do more than just tell the story. At its best, as for example recently in Lucy Prebble’s “Enron” or Lee Hall’s “Pitmen Painters” the drama will illuminate the actuality. At its worst it will trivialise it or simply tell it “as it was” in a quasi documentary style. It is the latter fault that makes Gill Adams’s “Keeler” such a dire night in the theatre. As a very frequent theatregoer I can only recall a couple of previous instances when I haven't lasted the course but I had had enough of Keeler (at the Richmond Theatre this week) by the interval. I left.keeler

The story of “Keeler” is that of Christine Keeler’s version of the Profumo affair as told in her book “The Truth at Last”. Unsurprisingly the book, and this stage version of it, is sympathetic to the young women caught up in the case presenting them as naive and largely innocent victims. I've no problem with this - although to imply that Keeler and Rice-Davies were heroines of feminism, which is suggested in “Keeler”, is perhaps a  step too far! There is nothing particularly remarkable about men who should know better having liaisons with silly and gold-digging young woman. Had the affair been today rather than in the early 1960s it would probably have been rather less of a cause célèbre than it was then. But simply to hold a mirror up to the foolishness of the double standards of the times, and retell an over-familiar tale, adds little to our understanding . Nor is any light thrown on the hypocrisies of the present day which though subtly different are no less venal. And the use of a single piece of source material, Keeler’s book, inevitably means that this must be a one-sided telling.

The playwright is Gill Adams about whom I know nothing. Unusually the programme has no biographical details about Ms Adams but an Internet search shows her to have been born in 1961 (the year Profumo met Keeler) and it seems that this is her first work to have been given a major commercial run. The writing and staging is patterned and predictable with few if any dramatic devices to relieve the tedium of the quasi-documentary style. Stephen Ward, overacted to breaking point by Paul Nicholas in a preposterous wig, is a caricature without depth or creditability.  Christine Keeler is well portrayed by the Soap starlet Alice Coutlhard but she struggles with banal material. The Russian diplomat Ivanov (Andrew Grose) struts around for a while looking faintly absurd in red swimming trunks and the other characters, including Andrew Piper as Profumo, are really cardboard cut-outs. It is the lack of depth that is this play’s principal failing. It is almost pantomimic in construct with the First Act establishing the villains and the heroes and telling us who we should cheer on or hiss at in Act Two.   

If you want to study the Profumo affair there is plenty of material around both contemporary and more recent. Michael Caton-Jones’s well-received 1989 movie “Scandal” starring John Hurt and Joanne Whalley, made a pretty good fist of telling the story as it was with fine writing and good performances by the principals. “Keeler” is a pale imitation of “Scandal” and adds nothing to our understanding of this grimy period in British political history. Or to the vicissitudes of the human experience either.