Review: Keeler, Brighton Theatre Royal, until Saturday November 12

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FROM The Full Monty to The Calendar Girls; from Spamalot to Henry V – whatever their tastes, Brighton’s Theatre Royal regulars have dipped their toes both the sublime and the (very nicely) ridiculous this season.

This massive breadth of genre was widened even further this week with ‘Keeler,’ described as ‘an inside story of the Profumo affair’ and based on her own biography. Delivered to an audience, generally of an age to have remembered the whole thing, the play included a bit of tasteful nudity, some simulated sex and a cracking performance by Paul Nicholas as so-called ‘society osteopath,’ Dr Stephen Ward.

The era in question – from 1960 (when Keeler first came to London aged 18) to 1963 (when she was sentenced to a nine-month jail sentence on charges of perjury and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice) – saw a sea-change in British attitudes to Government and authority. It also saw the launch of the swinging sixties.

In some ways it was a tragic story, albeit based on her own recollection of events. She was clearly too young and naïve to comprehend what a slimeball Stephen Ward was and unwisely sought his protection. The play moved swiftly through her decline into notoriety against effective black and white backdrops chronicling events in the world outside....the Soviets moving forward in the space race; the Cuban missile crisis and fears of nuclear war. Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies were effectively pimped by Ward and Keeler’s association with Russian attache Captain Yevgeny Ivanov while she was having an affair with War Minister John Profumo triggered the downfall of Harold Macmillan and damaged the credibility of the then Conservative government.

The period is almost best remembered for Rice-Davies’ comment, when told Viscount Astor denied any impropriety with her, “Well, he would, wouldn’t he?”

The dramatic story was competently played by a lookalike cast who were convincing enough to depict how a river of sleaze undercut the tottering cliffs of upper class respectability before engulfing them. Things would never be the same again.

Plaudits to Paul Nicholas for playing such an unsympathetic character as Ward with total credibility and a young cast who helped their audience relive what were certainly not the good old days. If you were there, you’ll love it. If not, it’s an education.