Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Theatre review: The Thrill of Love

PREVIEW DISCLAIMER: The Thrill of Love invites the critics in tomorrow.

Still finding its identity as a venue, the St James Theatre transfers Amanda Whittington's melodrama The Thrill of Love from Newcastle-under-Lyme. Looking at Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain, the play focuses on the years leading up to her murder of her lover David Blakely, when she worked in London's private gentlemen's clubs. First a hostess at the Court club, then later given her own club, the Little, to manage by her unseen gangster boss, Ruth becomes popular and, initially, successful. But, clearly damaged by a traumatic childhood, she continues to behave in a self-destructive way, collecting many lovers but always going back to the abusive Blakely in the end. The only man on stage is a fictional police detective (Robert Gwilym,) determined to get to the bottom of her story and find out why she refuses to defend herself; The Thrill of Love's angle is to tell Ellis' story through the other women in her life.

So the peroxide-blonde Ruth (Faye Castelow,) modelling herself after Hollywood stars but with more modest ambitions, finds support from Sylvia Shaw (Hilary Tones,) manageress of the Court club where she initially finds work, and a more fickle kind of friendship from her fame-hungry colleague Vickie Martin (Maya Wasowicz.) But her most loyal supporter will turn out to be char lady Doris, with Katie West's performance providing the heart of the piece.

Unfortunately melodrama has never been a genre to appeal to me, and Whittington's play most definitely plays out in this style. I also found something very stilted to her dialogue, which infects the performance style of James Dacre's production: Though there's a couple of standout lines, overall there's a feeling of period drama pastiche rather than something that rings true. The setting of seedy, smoky 1950s private clubs with crackly Billie Holiday records playing in the background has the potential for something very atmospheric that Dacre doesn't quite pull off, and the play never really seems to get to the heart of the story and its doomed leading lady.

The Thrill of Love by Amanda Whittington is booking until the 4th of May at the St James Theatre.

Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes straight through.

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