The Thrill of Love*** (St James Theatre, 29 April 2013)

Posted: April 29, 2013 in Theatre

Ruth Ellis, seems to have lost none of her fascination for dramatists almost 60 years after she became the last woman to be hanged in Britain. Many others, men and women, suffered the same fate, some of them even innocent, but few have stuck so firmly in public consciousness. After a slow and uncertain start, Amanda Whittington’s new play builds to a dramatic crescendo and is unequivocal in advocating that Ellis, although not technically innocent, was very much a victim. Beginning work as a hostess in a seedy Soho night club, Ellis appears as a bubbly if fragile young woman; we then see her gradually transform into a quivering neurotic, totally besotted with her secretly gay boyfriend, her body wrecked through beatings, miscarriages, abortions, drugs and alcohol. The murder she eventually commits is made to look more like an obligation than a crime, although, as the man she kills never appears in the play, we are not given the chance to understand the reason for her infatuation with him. This version of events becomes believable mainly because of a magnificent performance by Faye Castelow as Ellis. However, the play’s main weaknesses are its lack of balance and its failure to paint a wider picture of Britain at a time when rigid post-War morality codes were beginning to clash with the liberal era that was to follow. Without an understanding of the times in which the events took place, modern audiences may be bewildered as to how such a draconian sentence could have been imposed for an offence which, in the circumstances presented here, could result in little more than a reprimand in 2013.

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