The Thrill of Love
Paul Johnson | 24 Jan 2014 11:05am
The Thrill Of Love is a line from the Cole Porter song Love For Sale,and dealing as it does with women selling their bodies in order to get on in life,is a highly appropriate title for this brutally shocking chronicle of real life events in the 1950s.
The exploitation of women and their vulnerability in society in the immediate post war years was never better demonstrated than in this unfolding tale of murder,involving as it did the last woman to be hanged in Britain. Amanda Whittington’s play chose to record the drama from the aspect of the women involved thus leading us to speculate on the driving force of events propelled by the unseen men.
As a dramatic device this has its merits and gives food for thought but leaves a degree of incompletion to the text and one’s full understanding of the emotions involved.
There was much to admire in Putney Arts Theatre’s production of this chilling, stark and tough play. The Director Will Cudmore had elicited, from the cast of five, strong and highly individual performances,buliding the drama very well up to the final and tragic denouement.
The tiny studio holding just 50 people within the Putney Arts Theatre complex lent intimacy and connection on the part of the audience. The play started with the first of many lovely musical settings featuring Billie Holiday.This was possibly symbolic as apart from the spellbinding quality of her voice, Miss Holiday herself lived a short and tragic life with suggestions that she was not always served well by the men in her life,as was the case with Ruth Ellis.
The set is simple and evokes the 1950s well in its spartan furnishings. Enter Ruth played with glacial control and an underlying vulnerability throughout by Clare Francis Martin-a fine study in character by Clare.The physical likeness to Ruth Ellis is very well portrayed.She dresses slowly and deliberately to set the scene-a good piece of wordless drama.
Shortly afterwards we encounter the lone male in the cast, Jonathan Tilley, playing the detective inspector Jack Gale. Jonathan played this part to perfection,exhibiting a mixture of authority with gentle concern-he senses something is wrong with the easy confession by Ruth of the murder but his first obligation is the due process of justice.
Jonathan Tilley as the detective inspector Jack Gale was,to paraphrase a current TV advert,so 1950s! He looked to have stepped out of the era with brilliantined hair in the classic 50s style,carefully dressed in faithful period detail in terms of colours,material and cut. His manner of concern laced with a gentle care for eliciting the facts hit the right note both in facial expression and vocal projection.
Amanda Benzecry as the night club manageress Sylvia Shaw was a powerful and arresting stage presence. Amanda displayed a tough no-nonsense persona which properly did not hide her protectionist instincts toward Ruth and her other girls to look after. In one memorable exchange the harshness of the time was displayed by Amanda’s condemnation of Ruth bringing bad publicity to her club,by virtue of adverse press coverage,even though ruth was on the verge of execution!
Nell Ross as a model and actress Vickie Martin gave a convincing performance as a lively,sassy,energetic social climber whose instincts are sharply tuned to self betterment,however that needs to be attained.
Finally Kirsty Harrison is excellent as a good hearted, likeable but vulnerable ‘char'(home help/domestic servant in current day language!). Kirsty gives an appropriately nervy and concerned,kindly persona to the character,and in the heart rending final moments of the play shows a finely exhibited physical emotion.
The dilemmas posed in regard to the murder and the circumstances surrounding the case,and not least the characters involved,are tantalisingly posed and skilfully set by the actors and director.Was there an establishment cover up? Why did Ruth go so readily to the gallows? Why did she not present vital evidence regarding the procurement of the murder wepon,which may just have saved her from the death sentence? It is to the credit of the production that these points are subtly but powerfully made.
I had mentioned the denouement; the final hours before Ruth’s execution,the calm control and dignity shown by Clare Francis Martin,was a chilling sequence and raised the drama of the play very well.
Ruth’s final dance with the reticent detective inspector,set to a beautiful Billie Holiday track ‘I’ll be seeing you’,provided the tenderest of moments in the play.
I believe Putney Theatre Company gave full justice to the power and resonance of this compelling play.Beyond the acting performances and direction I acknowledge also the fine costume design of Allie Duthie,lighting by Daniel Ramsden,and hair (great peroxide!) by Peter Love.
- : admin
- : 23/01/2014