CHRISTINE THE MUSICAL
CTM Productions at the Mercury Theatre Colchester
This tuneful true-life story first surfaced in 2012, just before Lord Lloyd Webber's ill-fated “Stephen Ward”, a musical which ploughs the same murky waters.
They share the same [real-life] characters in Christine Keeler's colourful life, and one song title [“You've Never Had It So Good” - © H MacMillan]. In many ways this modest show is the better piece, not least because of the catchy, pastiche numbers by Tony Franchi, who also produced, and co-wrote the book with Marion Wells. Franchi's musical education dates back to the pop scene of the early 60s, and this shows in the scoring of songs like the Act One finale [with its cheesy kick-line] and Bedroom Rock which opens the second half with suggestive shadow-play on a bed-sheet screen.
Sixteen songs in all – a generous helping in a piece that runs a bare two hours including interval. The title number – My Name's Christine – is perhaps the most memorable, and is reprised at the end of the closing scene with that iconic chair.
The “Style” duet with Ward is effective too, as is the wistful tribute to female celebrity [Jackie Kennedy, the Virgin Queen] “Famous Like Her”. Rice-Davies, “star of the Show” at the Old Bailey, also has a typically Sixties novelty number [Adam and Eve, Bonaparte and Josephine] - “Well, He Would Say That”. Ivanov the Soviet spy is given a lovely clap-along [if over-extended] hymn to Wodka, and Profumo an amusingly operatic [if over-extended] aria Make Love Not War.
Lindsay Lloyd's production starts strikingly with wild gun-shots and a clever bit of knock-off newsreel. It's all set amid the gilded chairs of Murray's topless bar, where Keeler first meets Ward, with back-projections of key cultural moments – Buddy Holly and the Hovercraft, the Mini and the Pill – and Homes and Gardens plates of, presumably, the Cliveden interiors where the notorious sex romps went on. The pace was occasionally hampered by momentary pauses between the scenes, but there were lots of ingenious ideas and plenty of laughs to keep the enthusiastic audience on-side.
And some excellent performances, too. Ashleigh Cole as the ordinary girl from Slough who brought down a government before she was old enough to vote, Angie Diggens as her pal Mandy – as someone says, perfect double act, blonde and brunette, head and heart, John Roberts as the louche, avuncular Pops and Kevin Topple holding it all together as the Hack narrator, with his cynical air and his lived-in, seen-it-all face. David Rutter is Profumo, powerful in his resignation scene, though that big number needs a lot of selling, and Olly Medlicott is the sleazy “almost Harley Street” Dr Stephen Ward.
House Band at the Cabaret Club – the Sex Tets – raised on a dais behind the action provide excellent backing under MD John Chillingworth.