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The Thrill of Love by Amanda Whittington – Tower Theatre Company

The Thrill of Love - Photography by Robert Piwko
The Thrill of Love – Photography by Robert Piwko

The Tower Theatre Company’s new production of Amanda Whittington’s popular play about Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in England, comes a few years after the 70th anniversary of that event. No bad thing for the horrors of Ellis’s sad story bear repetition and this production feels particularly timely in the wake – if it is the wake – of the #MeToo movement. As the doomed Ellis, Beatrice Andrew is superb and, though she is beautiful where Ellis was merely brassy, she nonetheless captures Ellis’s brittle vanity and a scene in which we see the aftermath of a physical encounter with one of Ellis’s lovers is painful to watch, full marks to the make-up team! There is excellent support from an outstanding Sue Brodie as a nightclub manager and also from Sarah Assaf as Ellis’s friend while Deborah Ley, despite some terrible wigs, gives a nuanced and credible performance as another of Ellis’s friends. But there is a real weakness in this production, the physicality of some of the cast at key moments. One of the actors simply cannot “play drunk” and, staggering about the stage, elicits some stifled laughter; while another stamps, stumps and stomps back and forth, wholly unconvincingly and seemingly in response to a directorial instruction to inject movement regardless of motivation. And while the sound is excellent, the lighting leaves something to be desired with a repeated effect of flash photography that seems misdirected and transitions that are sometimes slightly off. Costumes are always important for a period production and these are generally convincing though how Andrew stays in one of her many dresses is something of a minor miracle.

Whittington’s play remains a curious thing. The perspective she adopts to analyse the case for Ellis – that of a sympathetic detective, played here by Martin Shaw – is one that was all too absent in 1955, and the playwright’s terrier-like obsession with the possible culpability of one of Ellis’s lovers never asks why he might have behaved as Whittington believes he did. Some of the scenes work less well than others, with a clumsy doubling by one character and a jarring last act “dance with a stranger” that does nothing but remind us of Shelagh Delaney’s script for Mike Newell’s 1985 film, surely the definitive telling of the story.

But it’s the production – not the script – that counts and, built around Beatrice Andrew’s moving performance, the Tower can chalk this up as another success.

3 Star Review

Review by Louis Mazzini

Based on a true story, The Thrill of Love is a stylishly atmospheric “film noir” style drama. Located amid the seedy glamour of 1950s West End “gentlemen’s” clubs, it’s a masterful blend of humour and tragedy, set against a soundtrack of Billie Holiday’s bruised and yearning voice.

Nightclub hostess Ruth Ellis works hard and plays hard in search of fame and fortune, but ultimately pays a high price to achieve it. In 1955, the self-styled “blonde bombshell” is found guilty of the murder of her violent upper class lover and Ruth finally becomes famous – as the last woman to be hanged in England.

In a desperate race against time to save Ruth from the hangman’s noose, her crime and the events leading up to it are re-examined through the eyes of the investigating detective, Inspector Gale, and the three loyal friends who knew her best: cynical nightclub manageress Sylvie Shaw; aspiring “actress” Vickie Martin; and naïve charwoman Doris Judd.

The Thrill of Love
by Amanda Whittington
Directed by Karen Hope

Cast Lst
Doris: Deborah Ley
Jack: Martin Shaw
Ruth: Beatrice Andrew
Sylvia: Sue Brodie
Vickie: Sarah Assaf

Production Team
Director: Karen Hope
Set Design: Jude Chalk
Costume Design: Lynda Twidale
Lighting Design: Stephen Ley
Sound Design: Rob Irvine
Stage Manager: Richard Davies
Assistant Director: Rosanna Preston
ASMs: Roxanne Cavanagh, Jonathan Li
Lighting Operator: Matthew Ibbotson
Sound Operator: Jacqui Dickson
Hair and Makeup: Laura Jayne Wootten
Set Construction and Get-In : Adam Lowe, Andrew Wilkes, Sebastian Jax, Holly Spice, Angelika Michitsch, Max Batty, Jacques Parraga-Michitsch, Keith Syrett, John McSpadyen and members of the cast & crew

The Thrill of Love
by Amanda Whittington
Directed by Karen Hope
Booking to Saturday 23rd February

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