The Thrill of Love
Loft Theatre, Leamington, until July 27
Reviewer: Peter McGarry
Don’t be misled by the inane and highly inappropriate title, this is a rivetingly powerful play on a subject of chilling proportions.
Focusing on Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged under English law, it examines the impact of a sad past life and a seedy social environment on an essentially honest woman. Ruth Ellis never denied her crime of murder but steadfastly refused to acknowledge any guilt about her actions.
Her story, so vividly recreated by writer Amanda Whittington, is superbly staged by the Loft company with a production to wind up what could readily be regarded as their best-ever season.
Director Elizabeth Morris and her team achieve a theatrical equivalent of film noir with their smog-bound 1950s imagery of shadows, shapes behind curtains and the seedy gloom of so-called gentlemen’s clubs.
In such surrounds, we are able to witness the accelerating emotions and neurosis of Ellis which will lead her almost inevitably to the hangman’s noose. But this is no basic thriller probing the moral issues of capital punishment. The trial here revolves around the conflicts within the human psyche.
In theatre terms, it’s a demanding dream of a role for an actress, one to which Julia Findlay responds in kind. She brilliantly equates the woman’s passionate and compulsive nature with her intriguing foibles – the vanity of the ‘peroxide blonde’ as per Dors and Monroe, her disarming self-appraisal, her determined defence of proper spoken grammar.
This fine performance is both enhanced and matched in later scenes by Emma Davis as the tough-love club manager and Claire Bradwell’s simplistic but tenderly supportive admirer.
The first act, with its smoky nightclub interior, suffers – despite some nice lively input by Leigh Walker – from low-key vocal projection, sometimes pitted against soul and jazz music of the period. Some of the pungent dialogue is easily missed.
Otherwise, for sheer stagecraft as well as overall direction and central portrayals, it’s a stunner.