The Thrill of Love
16 - 23 May 2015
Sat 7:45pm, Mon 7:45pm, Tue 7:45pm, Wed 7:45pm, Thu 7:45pm, Fri 7:45pm, Sat 2:45pm, Sat 7:45pm
The story of Ruth Ellis. This production coincides with the 60th anniversary of her trial and execution. The subsequent public outcry ensured the abolition of the death penalty.
Ruth Ellis was executed in 1955 for the murder of her love. She was the last woman to be hanged in Britain, at a time when domestic violence and sexual exploitation had barely been named, and the public sense of injustice proved a key factor in the abolition of the death penalty. Ruth also made her mark on popular culture. A 'blonde bombshell', her passionate and tragic affair with an upper class racing driver was a tabloid reporter's dream. Ruth's brief life still resonates and our our production of this acclaimed drama will coincide with the 60th anniversary of her trial.
Amanda Whittington’s The Thrill of Love had its debut two years ago when it was commissioned by the New Vic Theatre. Amanda is a 45-year-old east Midlands-based writer whose name rarely appears on the critics' lists, as the majority of her work is commissioned by regional reps and almost exclusively produced outside London. Yet since she made her debut with Be My Baby in 1998 Whittington has built up a body of genuinely popular, accessible dramas whose raucous humour and lightness of touch belies the dark, often disturbing subject matter beneath.
She is drawn to writing about women struggling to escape trapped situations. This play about Ruth Ellis, what led to her killing her lover David Blakely and the infamous trial that ensued with Ruth being the last woman executed in Britain, is perfect material for her. It’s a meticulously researched piece that weaves together fact and fiction in documentary drama form with authentic, imaginative language. Quirky film noir references and nuances pepper the script giving it texture and a real sense of period.
Having grown up 5 minutes away from the Magdala Pub in Hampstead where Blakely was shot Ruth’s story was part of my teenage culture. The bullet holes are still visible on the outside wall of the pub. At that time the 1980’s film Dance with a Stranger made Ruth seem like a tragic but rather glamorous siren. The Thrill of Love is a visceral evocation of a stark era where the death penalty was still in existence, diminished responsibility was not recognised and domestic violence and sexual exploitation were not taken into consideration as they would be today.
The play opened on Keith Gilbert and his teams’ excellently executed monochrome, slick, stylish set representative of a post war aspirational time where polish and glamour were part of a brave new world. It provided the perfect contrast to the reality of the messy human story unfolding on stage.
Eve Costello’s appearance and poise conveyed Ruth Ellis as every inch the aspiring model cum actress who had spent many of her young years climbing the swish but slippery social ladder based in nightclubs and bars frequented by men who paid for her attentions. In order to bring Ruth to life she’d made a strong vocal choice evocative of the screen goddesses and the technicolour world she aspired to. Eve’s detached quality as Ruth amplified the fragile emotional and physical state she was in at this point in her life.
Nick Reason was perfectly cast as Jack Gale the Detective Inspector who delves deeper into Ruth’s background and psyche and therefore uncovers the truth of a damaged woman. Nick melded an empathy and stillness with gritty realism and his chosen accent and delivery was truly from another era.
Jenny Lloyd Lyons was excellent, moving and totally believable as Sylvia Shaw the nightclub manageress who attempts to help Ruth and tried to protect naïve newcomers to the nightclub scene. She conveyed a woman who had seen it all but struggled to maintain a hard won sense of dignity.
Isabella McCarthy Sommerville played Vickie Martin, the ambitious but fresh faced girl from Surrey dazzled by the bright lights of London who meets a sorry end. She captured the pert and pushy naivety of the part wonderfully.
Rebecca Warnett as Doris Judd, the cleaner at the club where Ruth worked, portrayed a believable detailed character who, like all the women in the play, struggled to better herself. Rebecca skilfully provided warmth and earthy humour offsetting the brittleness of the other characters.
Skilfully designed lighting by Mike Batchelor created moving and dramatic moments as they unfolded on the stark and clean lined set. Alison Soudain, Gerry Cortese and their team provided very stylish and detailed costume design that perfectly reflected the monochrome set.
It’s clear that Miles Jenner felt a real sense of responsibility directing this play and that he wanted to do justice to the tragic events surrounding not only the life of Ruth Ellis, but of all those women who lived unprotected, unfulfilled lives at the mercy of the hypocrisy, class status and social mores of the period. He had made sure his assured and concentrated cast really steeped themselves in research and got under the skin of the period. This combined with an excellent production crew ensured his care and commitment shone through.
It struck me that there is additional worth in LLT producing this play at this time. Although we may have moved on in some areas of legality, how little has actually changed for those women who find themselves trapped by poverty and lack of real education or self-worth. The papers still delight in printing salacious tabloid stories about women who are drawn to men, money and what appears to be a glamourous lifestyle that ends up anything but, so echoing the life of Ruth Ellis who was executed 60 years ago.