Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Wednesday 16th November, 2011
This story has been told before and more effectively in the film Scandal. Sadly this play brings nothing new to the table other than a generous serving of awkward dialogue and a trio of ladies in ostrich feathers and pasties (by which I mean nipple covers, not baked goods from Greggs’s). It was like Showgirls but in Walford. These three trooped out to cover scene transitions, adding to the seediness and voyeuristic nature of the material.
Alice Coulthard, formerly of Emmerdale, plays celebrated horizontalist Christine Keeler in this biography-cum-drama/documentary. It’s not her fault. The story barely allows us to sympathise with the character. There is one moment when she tries to get her flat-mate and pimp (Paul Nicholas) to help her report a sexual assault, where she is portrayed as a victim, exploited by men corrupt with power, but on the whole she is a willing participant in the sordid comings and goings (nudge wink) and for the most part, life’s a party. The more interesting story of her friend and erstwhile companion, Mandy Rice Davies is only briefly touched on.
The afore-mentioned flat-mate and pimp, Stephen Ward, was a right narsty barstard and pompous arse, judging by his depiction here by Paul Nicholas. I’ve gone off him. His delivery is too heavy-handed and fruity-voiced, more suited to historical romps where he can be the dastardly squire. So I neither warmed to the character nor the performance. When, at the end, he takes an overdose and dies, and no one turns up to see him cremated, I didn’t even bother to shrug. He’d been a narsty barstard and nothing else, so I didn’t give a monkey’s.
The main problem is the script. Too many “darlings” and “my dears” for my liking. Also, lines like, “Was he like an awkward teenager or a rampant beast? A beast, I bet.” Nicholas chewed these words and spat them out like they were gobbets of tobacco. Well before the interval, we were waist deep in smarm.
The second act was marginally better than the first, because this dispensed with the showgirls and focussed on Ward’s trial. Here more historical and authentic details came to the fore. That Keeler sold her story to the News Of The World for £23,000 is, nowadays, nothing remarkable. Perhaps she was the first to make a name for herself by selling her story. These days, every other talentless whore is doing it. It’s a well-worn career path at which a girl can succeed if she puts her back into it.
Theatrically, the most effective moment for me was a knife-fight depicted in shadow play. The rest was sub-EastEnders meets tepid spy thriller. At the beginning, Keeler’s narration tells us most people only know her because of the famous picture of her naked on a chair. The play closes with Coulthard enacting that very pose for us, like a tableau in a burlesque show. We are told what happened to the other major players in the story, but nothing of Keeler’s life since that picture was taken. Frankly, I wasn’t interested. I didn’t even feel like I should have been. For me, that was the scandal.