Theatre review: The Thrill of Love

To several generations Ruth Ellis is the archetypal femme fatale, the woman scorned who shot her unfaithful lover and was hanged for murder – the last woman in Britain to be so.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 18th March 2013, 8:49 am

In her new play The Thrill of Love, Amanda Whittington attempts to go behind these cliches to give a more rounded, sympathetic portrait of the 28-year-old peroxide blonde making her way in post-war London.

Ellis’ victim, upper class racing driver David Blakely, is left off-stage – an interesting decision which means sympathy remains entirely with Ellis – as Blakely is seen as a kind of shadowy concept and not the flesh and blood Ellis fired six shots at.

There was more sympathy, in fact, for the passerby accidentally shot in the hand.

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Whittington wants her audience to see working class divorcee mum Ellis as the victim – a victim of prejudice, domestic violence and a savage justice system. There is also more than a hint of Ellis’ mental fragility including her obsession with being a film star and finding a knight in shining armour – which she was convinced was Blakely.

Inspector Jack Gale, the real detective who investigated the case, represents the audience – asking the questions and willing Ellis to offer more of a defence as to why she shot Blakely.

It is all rather depressing stuff - as the play progresses darkly to the gallows. The play has a film noir quality and a haunting score provided by the voice of Billie Holliday singing T’aint Nobody’s Business if I Do and I’ll Be Seeing You. It is a cry for understanding.

Faye Castelow is outstanding as the fragile Ellis who finds herself a cause celebre. It is her portrayal - tender, emotional, bewildered, that keeps the audience mesmerised by the true story – and wishing its outcome had been different,

It is at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, until Saturday, daily at 7.30pm.