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Review: Huddersfield Thespians' The Thrill of Love at Lawrence Batley Theatre

Show explores the story of the last woman to be hanged in the UK after shooting her lover dead

Huddersfield Thespians open the season with The Thrill of Love

On Easter Sunday, 1955, Ruth Ellis shot her lover David Blakely dead. She was arrested, confessed, found guilty of murder, and was the last woman in the UK to be hanged, on July 13.

Sounds like a simple case of a murderer being served justice by the law of the time — but delve into Ellis' story, as the Huddersfield Thespians are this week at the Lawrence Batley Theatre, and it's anything but simple.

She was tragic, yet remarkably poised; bruised but refused to be beaten — 50,000 people signed a petition appealing for clemency, but she refused any part in the campaign to spare her life.

Ruth Ellis with boyfriend David Blakely at the Little Club in London 1955. Ellis was charged with murder and hanged for the shooting of Blakely at Holloway Prison

The Thrill of Love explores the Ruth's life as a hostess and nightclub manager as flashbacks, information told to Detective Inspector Gale (Matthew Fairhead), who is desperately searching for the story behind the murderess who appears a little too calm after her arrest.

It's a rough old world: the nightclub girls become friends because they're in the same sleazy, dangerous boat, but are quick to turn on each other when the going gets tough.

Huddersfield Thespians rehearse The Thrill of Love

Ellis disintegrates from glamorous, well-spoken hostess to a drunken, abused shell, clinging to 'passion' as a reason to stay with a man who virtually makes her a prisoner in her own home.

Poppy Stahelin captures the vulnerability behind Ellis' confident demeanour with ease — yet retains the mystery and confusion that surrounded her. She doesn't give the game away — Ellis was known for her poise, her refusal to defend herself, with no clear reason why — and by the end of the play, we still don't really understand her.

Sarah Watson plays friend and fame-chaser Vicki Martin, sweet but sharp, and has fantastic chemistry with Poppy and Liz Hoyle, who plays no-nonsense club manager Sylvia Shaw. Their characters aren't always likeable, but show the grit needed to survive in the world of gentlemen's clubs, where it's not just the drinks on offer.

Melanie Hudson completes the five-man cast as Doris Judd, a woman who sacrifices her own marriage, and wellbeing, to try and keep Ellis from plummeting into the abyss. While dithery and naive, her character has the most heart, and her final scene with Ellis is particularly sad.

Huddersfield Thespians in rehearsal for The Thrill of Love

Throughout the play, which uses flashbacks, narration from DI Gale and scenes that deliberately blur events (the trial scene in particular), there's a growing feeling that all's not as it seems — that a whole other story is waiting to be told.

But as Ellis walks calmly to the gallows in the final moments before a poignant black-out and the sound of a trapdoor opening, we are none the wiser.

The Thrill of Love is at the Lawrence Batley Theatre until Saturday October 24.

Tickets cost £12 — book online at the lbt.org or call 01484 430528.

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