As if we’re not grotesquely spoiled in London already, Victoria’s newly opened St James Theatre seems to be finding a niche as a receiving house for the best of smaller regional theatre. We’ve just had Out of Joint’s magnificent touring production of ‘Our Country’s Good’, and in a couple of months Northern Broadsides’ acclaimed ‘Rutherford & Sons’ will be heading down from Yorkshire.
In between comes this new play from Amanda Whittington, a sort of Brit noir concerning the final days and months in the life of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in the UK (in 1955).
‘The Thrill of Love’ received good notices earlier this year when it premiered at Staffordshire’s New Vic, and certainly up and coming director James Dacre offers a stylish production, Jonathan Fensom’s blood red cabaret club set disorientatingly pieced by washes of ambient sound and blinding flares of light.
But for me ‘The Thrill of Love’ seemed to fall into the trap of much film noir: namely, that it looks great but it’s difficult to work out what the hell is going on.
As nervy, chirpy, boozy Ruth, Faye Castelow puts in a hypnotic turn as a woman falling off an emotional cliff in slow motion. But the reasons for her collapse are often maddeningly intangible: Whittington shows us a women’s world peopled only by Ruth and her nightclub hostess friends, in which the men – including Ruth’s abusive lover David Blakeley, whom she murders – appear only in conversation. If you’re not intimately familiar with the case, what’s left is a bafflingly decontextualised portrait of a woman in decline. Andrzej Lukowski