Ruth Ellis was the last woman to be hanged in Britain in 1955. She pleaded not guilty and offered no defence but her fate was sealed when she said in court and on oath “It is obvious when I shot him I intended to kill him.” The damning response was “No further questions.” In this finely written short play by Amanda Whittington the pragmatic question of where and from whom she obtained the gun – the murder weapon- is picked up by a fictitious police inspector Jack Gale and Whittington’s play The Thrill of Love is played mostly in retrospect. The valid subject of the abuse of women is also a major theme within the body of the play.
In this production at Nottingham New Theatre directed by Laura Jayne Bateman and produced by Aneesa Kaleem the play is shown almost as a piece of traverse theatre with the audience on both sides of the action. Some atmosphere is created with a smoke machine but whether the smoke effect is needed through the entire play is debatable. The characters are beautifully costumed in 1950s style.
Inspector Jack Gale is played by the normally excellent Ben Standish who puts across his character as a gentle investigator. This portrayal works best when Gale’s speeches are directly addressed to Ruth Ellis (Sophie Walton) but the theatrical dynamic fails badly as the character appears to read large amounts from his police notes with his head down. This under powered depiction is further hindered with a period song playing at the same level as his speeches. Outside of these situations Standish’s performance engages as it should carrying the action forward and informing the story with his findings.
The women in the play fair better. Walton is excellent as the abused Ruth Ellis and she shows her rough charm and control in the public eye and the complete opposite in private.
One of the highlights of the play is a scene after a funeral. It is very well directed and it brings a much needed energy to the second half of the play. Particularly impressive in this scene and others is Gigi George as Doris Judd the charwoman. For a very youthful young woman she portrays the common sense and maturity of her character terrifically well.
Lou Knapp brings out all of the brassy determined hard-faced nature of club owner Sylvia Shaw in a winning performance that is a mile away from her portrayal as Mrs Beatrice Carbone in A View From The Bridge last year. Another actress who featured in the same play is Sasha Butler. This time Butler engages as would be model and actress Vickie Martin. Butler conveys all the hope and dreams of the young woman whose life could so easily turn bad through her encounters with violent and abusive men.
The Thrill of Love is an interesting and challenging look at female friendships in the seedy world of smog bound London nightclubs revealing bitchiness, the warmth of a confidant in times of distress, dashed hopes of a glamorous life, abortion hell, murder and a world dominated by ruthless men. Ruth Ellis’s story remains distressingly poignant.
Runs until 5 March. Review originally written for The Reviews Hub.