Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

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The Thrill of Love

The Nonentities

The Rose Theatre, Kidderminster


In this modern competitive world, those who come last are seldom remembered. In the case of Ruth Ellis, being last gave her a most unwelcome notoriety at the end of her troubled life.

Ellis was a London hostess and nightclub manager and, in 1955, was the last woman to be hanged in Britain after the brutal murder of her lover David Blakely.

At a time when the country was still recovering from a world war, there was little concern or help for those with mental illness and domestic violence and sexual exploitation seemed to be a way of life. The world that Ruth inhabited was occupied by the elite, the wealthy and criminals alike and was fused with sex and alcohol.

Amanda Whittington’s play, The Thrill of Love, seems like an ill-fitting title considering the tragic life of the Ruth Ellis she chooses to portray. It’s a desperate view devoid of any joy or romance and one where Whittington ponders how Ellis came to be in possession of a cleaned and loaded gun.

Throughout she suggests that the murder was more out of a secret obligation that fuelled this crime of passion.

It’s an argument that still persists today as to the true motives and guilt in the light of Ellis’s diminished responsibilities. Presented in the intimacy of the studio theatre, The Nonentities Company delivered a first class performance in balancing the emotional state of Ruth and her close friends against the official facts of the case.

The play was presented in the round and the performance did have a few viewing issues due to that. This minor frustration is heightened by the fact that all of the cast are so good that you somehow feel a little cheated.

Directed by Louise Fulwell and with a set design and art installations by Keith Rowland, Andrew Davie and Anna Murphy, the setting is both stylish and intriguing when you first enter the theatre space.

The second atmospheric addition throughout the play is the clever sound work by Joe Harper and the haunting music of Billie Holiday. It’s all a fitting sleazy, jazz backdrop to Ruth Ellis’s tragic story and an effective staging for some excellent performances.


Amy Cooper as Ruth Ellis

Firstly Amy Cooper plays Ruth Ellis and manages to capture Ruth’s well documented, almost self-destructive personality. Even after the very public murder of Blakely on a London Street, Ellis was said to be calm and resolute in her actions and quite accepting of her guilt. Miss Cooper managed to deliver a real sense of someone who had accepted their fate.

Next is Sue Downing as Sylvia Shaw, the wily Club Hostess, hardened to the seedy world of night clubs and prostitution. Focussed on controlling her girls and chasing the profits, Sylvia rarely shows her emotions, but as Ruth faces her inevitable end in prison, Sylvia becomes emotionally broken and Sue Downing conjured real tears for us to see on the night.

Vicky Martin was Ruth Ellis’s close friend and Bethany Grainger excelled in the part. Vicky died in a car accident in the same year as the murder, a sad fact that must have added to Ellis’s mental state. Bethany’s performance was very focussed, highlighting the corruptable ambition of young girls attracted to the fame and lights of London in the 50s.

Then there’s Jack Gale played by Stefan Austin, the investigating police officer whose military service and street savvy in post-war London gives him the ability to question everything. Gale desperately tries to find some other reason for Ruth’s actions in order to save her from execution. Stefan was sharp and to the point in his performance and definitely looked the part.

All of the performances were outstanding but one of the best for me was Hannah Tolley who plays Doris Judd. Doris was the charlady and cleaner for Sylvia Shaw. It’s hard to know if the writers take on her is a true portrayal of Doris but Hannah played her as a kind and genuinely concerned woman.  Her compassion for Ruth was evident and in the proximity of the studio theatre, Hannah’s performance was perfectly awkward and yet very emotional.

It seems that the entire cast realised that this is a very adult and feminine piece of work. Being based on the life of real person and the complexity of the subject matter called for respect and the best work that they could conjure and they certainly did that.

As mentioned placing the performances in the round does have some issues but those are down to the fact that you want to catch every nuance of this cast’s performances and at times you are unable to. Having said that, it’s a testament to the continuing quality of The Nonentities abilities to stage highly professional performances, within an amateur dramatic setting. To 10-11-18

Jeff Grant


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