Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical “Stephen Ward,” about a notorious sex-and-politics scandal known as the Profumo Affair, opens in December.
Playwright Gill Adams has cannily stolen a march by presenting “Keeler,” based on memoirs of Christine Keeler, one of the main participants in the 1963 case.
Webber needn’t worry. Adams’s play is a mix of expositional dialogue, hilarious partiality, and wild variations of tone.
The call girl Keeler is played by Sarah Armstrong, whose physical charms are well displayed in a naked swimming pool scene. Still, her acting is lackluster.
Paul Nicholas (who also directs) plays Stephen Ward, a fashionable osteopath who introduces young women such as Keeler to important political figures.
He’s good at being suave and sinister. His production also starts well: Sequined showgirls create dance routines which comment ironically on the action.
Then he forgets about the irony and the showgirls, and nothing much is left except tedium.
The magic in a new “Magic Flute” is of the dark variety.
The Queen of the Night is an elderly grump who is stuck in a wheelchair. The Three Boys are wizened old men who look like Yoda from “Star Wars.”
It is all part of the “oldie” theme of Simon McBurney’s production at English National Opera. Even Papageno, who is 28 in the libretto, becomes an ageing laborer with gray hair.
An artist chalks mountains and comets onto a blackboard, and they’re projected onto screens to create locations. Another performer makes amplified sound effects of flapping birds and raindrops using paper, water and wobbling metal sheets.
At first it all creates a playful world for a battle between innocence and experience.
Then things get incoherent. The Queen of the Night’s crabbiness vanishes. She even joins in the final chorus of rejoicing. The black-box set (designs by Michael Levine) and the drab suits for the chorus are dull.
In an opera about magical transformations and a mystical sun, a splash of color might have been a good idea.
Roland Wood’s Papageno is an amusing Everyman, and he proves the star turn of the show.
Cornelia Gotz flunks her top F’s as the Queen of the Night and wobbles out of tune. Ben Johnson (Tamino) and Devon Guthrie (Pamina) are blandly pleasant as the lovers, and James Creswell makes a sepulchral Sarastro. Gergely Madaras sounds as if he’s trying to beat the record for fastest opera, which doesn’t help the score much. Rating: ***.
“Keeler” is at Charing Cross Theatre. Information: http://www.charingdrosstheatre.co.uk or +44-8444-930-650
“The Magic Flute” is at English National Opera. It is co-produced by ENO, Netherlands Opera and the Aix Festival. Information: http://www.eno.org or +44-20-7845-9300
What the Stars Mean: ***** Exceptional **** Excellent *** Good ** So-so * Mediocre (No stars) Poor
Muse highlights include Martin Gayford on European art, John Mariani on wine, Jeremy Gerard on U.S. theater, Lance Esplund on U.S. art and Craig Seligman on books.
(Warwick Thompson is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
To contact the writer on this story: Warwick Thompson, in London, at firstname.lastname@example.org or https://twitter.com/ThompsonWarwick.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at email@example.com.