THE THRILL OF LOVE
by Amanda Whittington.
St James Theatre 12 Palace Road SW1E 5JA To 4 May 2013.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Wed & Sat 2.30pm.
Runs: 1hr 30min No interval.
TICKETS: 0844 264 2140. 0844 264 21400844 264 2140
Review: Carole Woddis 3 April.
Shot in the dark misses its aim.
It makes the saddest reading. Ruth Ellis was the last woman to be executed in Britain after shooting her lover and racing car driver David Blakely on Easter Sunday, 1955. Her fate has subsequently become the subject of much speculation, books and films.
Now Amanda Whittington has turned it into a play, attempting to reclaim Ellis and answer questions such as to why she never denied shooting Blakely.
Writer of the much admired Be My Baby (Soho 2000), Whittington has a slew of work in the pipeline for this year and is clearly drawn to female characters who have been misunderstood or misrepresented because of past prejudices.
In The Thrill of Love she seeks to recontextualise the emotional life of Ellis, stereotyped at the time because of her peroxide blonde hair and lifestyle, caught-up in the world of London nightclubs and involved with the man at the centre of the Christine Keeler affair, Stephen Ward.
To what extent Ellis was influenced by him and, reading the programme note by Ellis’ sister Muriel, by their abusive father, is, strangely, never made plain in Whittington’s drama. Certainly a different person lies inside the public stereotype of Ellis, but sad to say, Whittington doesn’t uncover it.
Rather, in James Dacre’s somewhat lurid production from Newcastle under Lyme’s New Vic Theatre, one cliché is replaced by another, that of the seedy world of 1950s West End nightclubs embodied by Jonathan Fensom’s heavy, ruched crimson curtaining, Billie Holliday back numbers and a world-weary fictional detective as a narrator-cum-conscience weaver, determined to get to a deeper truth than the one Ellis seems keen to foster.
Even more unfortunately, Faye Castelow has been persuaded to play Ellis as a hysterical personality from the beginning. Far from reclaiming Ellis, this is yet another portrait of woman as victim, in thrall to fantasy and glamour without any flashbacks to explain her later behaviour. Giving some of that would have been a reclamation.
Nice performances from Hilary Tones as the nightclub madame, Sylvia Shaw and Maya Wasowicz as Ellis’ nightclub colleague, Vickie Martin. A wasted opportunity, all the same.
Ruth Ellis: Faye Castelow.
Jack Gale: Robert Gwilym.
Sylvia Shaw: Hilary Tones.
Vickie Martin: Maya Wasowicz.
Doris Judd: Katie West.
Director: James Dacre.
Designer: Jonathan Fensom.
Lighting: Daniella Beattie.
Sound/Music: James Earls-Davis.
Musical Director: Mark Meadows.
Movement: Emily Piercy.
Dialect coaches: Charmian Hoare, Martin McKellan.
Associate director: Will Wrightson.
The Thrill of Love was first performed at the New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme on 22 February 2013. First performance of this production at St James Theatre was 27 March 2013.