Ruth Ellis inhabited the seedier parts of London’s glamorous nightclubs. Supposedly groomed into the role of nightclub hostess by the Profumo-pimp Stephen Ward, Ellis climbed the ranks to become a celebrated nightclub manageress in her own right.
And it is in the realms of 1950s gentleman clubs that Amanda Whittington has chosen to set The Thrill of Love, rather than in the bedrooms of bad sex and violence that many people associate with Ruth Ellis.
Transferring from the New Vic Theatre, Newcastle, this extremely well-oiled 90 minute production tries to uncover the psychology of the woman who seemed to accept her fate of victim, and then criminal, without outcry. Instead of abuse, we are shown the tight-knitted female relationships of Ellis and her nightclub friends, Sylvia and Vickie.
With moments of pleasing girly humour, we are given an insight into the general treatment of women in this particular sphere and time. Overall, it gives the sense that Ellis had a lot in common with her work colleagues: as a poorly educated women she wanted the chance of achieving fame and riches.
What set Ellis apart was her determination to see through her relationship with the abusive David Blakely, the man she is eventually driven to kill. The rigour of Ellis’ spirit- a combination of self-effacement and show-girl flamboyance is well portrayed by Kate Castelow whose performance more than effectively conveys the off-stage violence.
The play’s emotional centre is in the touching scenes when a broken Ellis is scooped up and cared for by her loyal char, Doris, who is sensitively played by Katie West. However, with Ellis’ final destination already known, the play fails to strike new ground; Ellis may be presented as a convincingly complex character but remains, essentially, a mysterious figure.