by Amanda Whittington.

Stephen Joseph Theatre Westborough YO11 1JW To 23 March 2013.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu 1.30pm Sat 2.30pm.
Audio-described 23 Mar 2.30pm.
Captioned 21 Mar 7.30pm.
TICKETS: 01723 370541.

then St James Theatre 12 Palace Street SW1E 5JA 27 March-4 May 2013.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat, 4 Apr & Wed (from 10 Apr) 10 2.30pm.
TICKETS: 0844 264 2140.

Runs 1hr 50min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 1 March at New Vic Newcastle-under-Lyme.

Little to love and no thrills.
If she hadn’t been hanged for murder Ruth Ellis (d.1955) wouldn’t be remembered. If she hadn’t been the last woman so hanged her name would have nothing like the niche prominence a film and this play help to provide. Amanda Whittington doesn’t give a full-on account of why, possibly, Ellis refused any attempt to reduce the sentence or even give evidence which might have helped. Nor does the play probe Ellis’s individual consciousness. It certainly never provokes any sort of external debate; the murdered lover never appears, and the only male presence is a detective who shifts uneasily between routine self-dissatisfaction, heavy-handed enquiry and late sympathy.

Perhaps we’re meant to follow him towards this sympathy for a creature of the shadily glamorous 1950s night-club world. This was, after, all the period which was incubating another steely-blonde criminal in Myra Hindley (aide to more, and more horrific murders), and the surface-sophisticated sleaze revealed under the title ‘Cliveden set’ (Cliveden is mentioned here) with a pimping Harley Street doctor, lying cabinet minister and more-or-less victim women engaged in smart-set sex.

That was all exposed under the very different flashbulbs of the following decade. And subsequently major social attitudes have changed. Nowadays, greater confidence among many women, more ruthless journalism and independent groups sometimes spontaneously establishing themselves, might have brought a different, better outcome.

But, strangely, Whittington refuses to pursue any of these, or any other definable purpose, preferring an impressionistic fluttering around the scene – until the prospect of an end enforces some tightening of the thematic, if not narrative, reins. But it still seems a more purposeful play lies available among the varying strands she presents.

Maybe, of course, it just needs more multitasking from an audience member to piece it all together, but despite a strong performance from Faye Castelow as the indeterminate Ellis drifting around designer Jonathan Fensom’s evocation of nightclub and private rooms of the period, and a sense of sympathy from the women she meets in her work, the play suggests no purpose in revisiting the subject, except as a warning against remembering the fifties with cosy approval.

Ruth Ellis: Faye Castelow.
Jack Gale: Mark Meadows.
Sylvia Shaw: Hilary Tones.
Vickie Martin: Maya Wasowicz.
Doris Judd: Katie West.

Director: James Dacre.
Designer: Jonathan Fensom.
Lighting: Daniella Beattie.
Sound: James Earls-Davis.
Musical Director: Mark Meadows.
Movement: Emily Pierce.
Dialect coach: Charmian Hoare, Martin McKellan.
Associate director: Will Wrightson.

2013-03-25 12:00:56

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