Ruth Ellis is infamous for being the last woman in the United Kingdom to be hanged in 1955. Ellis received the death penalty for killing her lover, racing car driver David Blakley.
The sad and emotional play A Thrill of Love, by Amanda Whittington, tells the events leading up to the death of Ellis from a female perspective; through the fictional characters of Sylvia Shaw (night club manager) Doris (the charwoman) and Ellis’s friend nightclub hostess and model Vickie Martin.
Inspector Jack Gale, complete with hat and raincoat so typically associated with a 1940s detective, is the only male member of the cast. He narrates the story as we watch him investigate why Ruth Ellis killed her lover, who continuously offered no defence for her actions.
In the intimate setting of the studio, director Kevin Middleton has created a piece that is extremely film noir. Mike Duxbury’s use of minimal lighting; Keith Harris’s stage design comprising of sparse pieces of furniture, black and white props, and characters that emerge from and then slip back into the shadows all combine perfectly to further develop the “film noir” feel of this production.
The Thrill of love is told in a series of vignettes, the scenes flipping back and forth from 1950 to 1955. In between each section, the distinctive voice of Billie Holiday floated through the auditorium. These haunting beautiful ballads, particularly Love for Sale by Cole Porter were very effective in pulling the viewer into the exploitative, sometimes violent world of the gentleman’s clubs of the 1950s.
Phil Rea’s Inspector Gayle was the epitome of a 1950s London detective; and gave a very believable performance.
Katie Meeriman gives a convincing performance as Sylvia Shaw, the hard-faced night club manager. She allowed the audience to catch a glimpse of her heart and concern for others, before returning to be the confident in charge madame.
Emily–Jane Carter as Vickie Martin creates a character that is vulnerable, ambitious and naive. When she tells the other women she would return home in a sliver Rolls Royce, I so wanted to believe that she would.
Amy Thompson gives a very convincing performance as Doris the young Charwoman. Her chemistry with Molly Packer was superb. I found the scene where she supported Ruth Ellis after a miscarriage, caused by the violent hands of David Blakely, very touching.
Molly Packer’s performance as Ruth Ellis, stirred up many emotions. I found myself feeling sorry for her due to her abusive treatment from various men, infuriated with her when she did not offer any defence for her shooting of Blakely and in admiration of her as she approached death in such a dignified way. It takes a very talented performer to take an audience member on such a journey.
This was a stylish, sophisticated, thought provoking production by a very talented company who deserve every success.
The Thrill of Love runs from 28th April – 5th May at The Crescent Theatre.
Theatretastic rating 4/5:
We say: “This was a stylish, sophisticated, thought provoking production by a very talented company who deserve every success.”