Review: The Thrill of Love at The Nottingham New Theatre

3.5 STARS

 

Upon entering the theatre on Friday night, my friend and I were extremely excited for NNT’s production of The Thrill of Love- of which we had heard great things- and it certainly did not disappoint in regard to the theatre’s ability to adapt Amanda Whittington’s 2013 script. The play itself, however, perhaps fell a little short of achieving a truly gripping depiction of Ruth Ellis’ (Sophie Walton) explosive love affair with David Blakely, the actors’ abilities frequently redeeming the Nottingham-born playwright’s rendering of Ellis’ life.

Based on true events, The Thrill of Love explores the circumstances which surrounded the shooting of David Blakely by his lover Ruth Ellis in 1955. What appears to be a straightforward ‘Guilty’ verdict for wilful murder, however, soon becomes more complicated as Detective Inspector Jack Gale (Ben Standish) begins to make a desperate appeal for Ellis to confess as to who gave her the gun used to kill Blakely and in what club this exchange occurred. Here, the role of her long-time admirer Desmond Cussens was being alluded to as it was in 1955 by the press. As Ellis’ actions result in her being hanged, this doubt as to whether or not she was persuaded into killing Blakely by the jealous Cussens led to an extremely gripping onstage debate (stressed by the audience being spoken to as if they were the jury) as to whether or not she should be sentenced to death. This doubt created a feeling of profound uneasiness which was emphasised by the sound of her body swinging to and fro at the close of the production- a particularly haunting and innovative element on the part of Technical Director James Fox.

This debate, however, was at the heart of what made the plot confusing- Blakely and Cussens remain absent throughout the production. As a result, it was difficult to make out who was being referred to at times. My friend, for example, was unsure exactly as to whether it was Blakely or both Blakely and Cussens who had taken to frequently beating up Ellis - and whilst I maintain it was just Blakely, I myself am not 100% confident of this point. Furthermore, the play could have benefited from a longer runtime as it would have been brilliant to see more of a development in the characterisations of the remarkable Sylvia Shaw (Lou Knapp), Doris Judd (Gigi George) and Vickie Martin (Sasha Butler) whose entertaining, heart-wrenching and at times shocking performances truly made the production. To add to these astonishingly convincing and fast-paced performances was the brilliant costumes worn by the actresses (provided by Little Theatre Costume Hire) and their flawless hair and make-up (Niamh Caines, Sasha Gibson and Lydia Smith). These elements coupled with the choice of music to accurately transport the cast members back to 1955. With the smoke that was being pumped into the dimly lit and tightly enclosed performance space as well as the layout of the seating which had the audience members facing one another, the production set up an astonishingly effective atmosphere which really emphasised the quality of the most dramatic scenes. One scene which comes to mind is Ellis in her satin red nightgown crying out in pain and doubling over onto the floor following the loss of her unborn baby as a result of Blakely’s abuse. This powerful moment lent itself hugely to the debate at the heart of the production- Should Ruth Ellis have been hanged for her actions?

Overall, a fast-paced and entertaining piece with, as always from The Nottingham New Theatre, astounding performances from the entire cast as well as brilliant direction from Laura Jayne Bateman. As a result, one could look past the cracks in the script and embrace the NNT’s poignant message about domestic abuse.

This production is collecting donations in aid of Nottingham Central Women’s Aid.

Hurry, there’s only two showings left and the tickets are selling out fast! Grab your tickets here:

http://newtheatre.org.uk/whats-on/

Photo Source:

http://ticketing.newtheatre.org.uk/media/posters/Ellisfixed_version_3.jpg

Sources:

http://newtheatre.org.uk/whats-on/

http://www.historytoday.com/richard-cavendish/ruth-ellis-executed

http://www.prisonersofeternity.co.uk/ruth-ellis-the-last-woman-hanged-in-britain/