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A CurtainUp London Review
The writers of A Model Girl have used many sources, including the biographies of some of those involved, and newspaper reports of the time, to piece together what might have happened. Curiously some sources which should be in the public domain, like the records of Stephen Ward's trial, have been tied up for eighty years and this secretive approach can only fuel speculation and conspiracy theories as to M15's involvement in the scandal. Stephen Ward committed suicide before the jury reached a verdict at the end of his trial where he had been charged with living off immoral earnings. Of course in the forty years since the Profumo affair, we are no strangers to sleaze with Clinton/Lewinsky grabbing the headlines, but this story of a nineteen year old call girl and the top notch society party goers at Lord Astor's stately home, Cliveden, still fascinates.
The musical opens in a seedy Soho club, Percy Murray's, where a straggly band of ill-assorted dancing girls twirl their tassels and dance with feathers for the amusement and sexual titillation of a rich clientele under the tutelage of Maureen, the Madame (Lorraine Bruce). The music has strains of Bossa Nova, soulful ballads and swing numbers and not a little of it redolent of 1960s musicals.
I was impressed by the musical range and the intelligence of the lyrics. I liked too the way Maureen interjects the action with the hypnotic and seductive song "Vile Bodies", ( "Vile Bodies can seduce you in . . . And you thrash around and kiss their painted mouths") with its sexy string background. It is this song which provides such a strong ending to the first act. Lorraine Bruce is a terrifically powerful singer and Emma Williams' sweet voice provides a good contrast in Christine's refrain, "Please Don't Laugh if I do the wrong thing."
Greenwich has attracted top notch performers to launch their new show. Emma Williams takes the role of Christine. Surely the West End can cope with two musicals with a Christine as the heroine? She is gorgeous and of course has a perfect voice and would have been The Sound of Music's Maria had not reality television promoted Connie Fisher. James Clyde as Ward has a wonderful world weary pose, all jaded sophistication and very manipulative but I still felt regret at his sad ending. I wonder whether he was also a Russian spy? Dale Rapley is much better looking than the real Jack Profumo, the politician and millionaire whose life was altered by the chance meeting at Cliveden when Keeler emerged naked from the swimming pool. Profumo spent the rest of his life working for an East End charity, initially by washing dishes, to expiate his "crime" and only died last year aged 90.
There are scenes at the despatch box in the House of Commons where John Profumo crosses swords with his Labour opponent George Wigg (Stuart Nurse), and in a London club where Christine meets small time gangster Johnny Edgecombe (Graham Bryan) and of course at the magnificent mansion, Cliveden. The set is simple, a curved backdrop of wooden doors which is versatile.
The storyline has been slightly altered for dramatic effect but the programme is very up front about what they have tampered with or shifted the time of. I am slightly doubtful as to the innocent persona of Christine Keeler but do accept that she was a pawn in a bigger game. Leaving out Christine Keeler's friend Mandy Rice Davies is an interesting decision by the writers.
A Model Girl hasn't had the large budget of most West End musicals but it is already very promising and deserves to find a wider audience. I've been playing the music on the website and the tunes get better and better and the lyrics never cloy. As Stephen Ward sings to Christine, "There's no-one in Who's Who who won't fall for you, I'm going to make you gorgeous, A Model Girl."
"When the Morning Comes" is Christine's finale sung from prison, "Here's a glass to the upper class/ Let's drink a toast to all of those who just screwed us both/ The gutter press and all the rest/ Those snotty nosed society beaux who despise us most. . . I've learned so much about who not to trust . . . Where has everybody gone?" It's a beautiful song but the ending seems to come too suddenly.
A Model Girl pleased me very much with its thoughtful story of politics, sex and spies, its pretty music and clever, witty lyrics. It is fully deserving of a West End transfer.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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