The Thrill of Love
24th March 2015
This is the story of Ruth Ellis, murderess. She confessed and it seems was undoubtedly guilty of the crime. Six bullets were fired. Four hit home. Ruth Ellis was hanged. The last woman to be hanged in this country. The question is not did she commit the murder, but did she receive justice? Ruth handed herself in and confessed to the crime. But there were extenuating circumstances that were never taken into acount, and those circumstances are what this play is about and it throws up a lot of questions. Why did she do it? Was if just a jealous fit of rage, or was it the final act of a desperate woman trapped inan abusive relationship. And what role did other people play in her actions - did they manipulate her to their own ends? The play doesn't answer these questions, it simply poses them.
It has a small cast: Ruth Ellis (Abbi Laidler), Inspector Gale (Billy Towers), the investigating officer convinced there was more to the murder but unable to uncover the whole truth, and Ellis's friends - Sylvia Shaw, club proprietor (Nikki Briggs) Vickie Martin, hostess and actress (Beth McAneny), and Doris Judd, (Lorna Breeze) cleaner at the club.
Directed by John Appleton , there is a lot that's good about this production. The simple sets, stark black backdrop with one or two key props to set the scene, a bar and a couple of tables for the club scenes, a bed for the 'home', a stark brick wall and bench for the prison cell. Careful lighting highlights the characters and action. The scene changes are slick with no obvious hitches, and the action is played out to an excellent sound track of contemporary 50s music.
And there are some good oerformances. Billy Towers holds the story together with a solid portrayal of the dogged policeman with a shady past. (Though his cockney accent slips at times!) Nikki Briggs is a creditable friend - torn between wanting to help, but needing to protect her own business. Best performance overall for me was Lorna Breeze who was the most convincing as the compassionate friend with no hidden agenda. She looked out for Ruth throughout. Individual scenes worth noting - Ruth's stumbling drunken behaviour at Vicky Martin's funeral, and the moments when the women argued - when they dropped their defences and their true emotions were shown. Ellis and Shaw after her return from hospital, Martin, Doris and Ellis in the club after Martin's car crash. At these points the relationship between the woman seems more convincing, truer, than the careful sparring of one another in the rest of the play.
The team have obviously worked hard to pull together a play that carefully exposes the dark background and dubious justice of the Ruth Ellis story. I was expecting a more turgid, and emotive play but this is a quiet thoughtful production.
The productions at the Royalty continue to improve. The Thrill of Love plays until Saturday 28th March. It's worth a visit.