This thought-provoking play tells the story of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in England. The bare facts of her crime are presented at the very start: we see Ruth dressing, preparing to go out – with a gun in her handbag. We see her wait for and then short dead her lover, David Blakely.
By then end of the play we see the jury take just 14 minutes to find her guilty of murder. Yes, the facts point to this conclusion….but this play looks at the wider picture, through the eyes of detective Jack Gale, played with understated emotion by Martin Ward. Gale hears Ruth’s confession, but one piece of her evidence in particular jars with him – where did she get the gun and travel to Hampstead to carry our the killing? Convinced there is more to learn, Gale takes his enquiries into the world Ruth inhabits: 1950s sleazy London nightclubs where the tough-as-nails Sylvia treats him with the mixture of contempt and disdain befitting her relationship with the police.
Yet Kathryn Ward as Sylvia also skilfully manages to convey the underlying tenderness she has for Ruth and her other girls, represented by Valerie / Vicki, a good time girl who acts as a foil for Ruth. Abbi Leverton sparkles as the young woman dreaming of stardom and money…a false dream for her as well as Ruth.
The nightclub’s cleaner Doris shows us a more ‘normal’ reality as she hopes for nothing more than marriage and children, but as she befriends, and hero-worships, Ruth, even she is caught up in their world. Susan Simpson delights as Doris, managing to inject some humour to counterpoint Ruth’s story.
However, the success of the play rests mainly on the mesmerising performance of Holly Squires as Ruth, taking us from her struggles as a single mother through her own personal hell of alcoholism, abortions, miscarriages and domestic abuse that finally drove her to the murder she was convicted of.
A minimalist set and use of backdrop film and Billie Holliday music provided the atmosphere of 1950s London, and the costumes were beautifully chosen for the characters. The final question was left to us, the audience to answer: given what we learn in the play, who was really to blame for the murder of David Blakely? My advice is – see the show and draw your own conclusions.
The Thrill of Love is staged at the Apollo Theatre, Newport from Tuesday 18th – Saturday 22nd February; tickets available here or by calling the Box Office on 01983 2010010. But hurry – seats are selling fast!