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Huddersfield Thespians explore life of Ruth Ellis — the last woman to be hanged in the UK — in new drama at LBT

The Thrill Of Love runs October 20-24 at the Lawrence Batley Theatre

Huddersfield Thespians open the season with The Thrill of Love

The life of the last woman to be hanged in the UK, Ruth Ellis, goes under the microscope in Huddersfield Thespians’ season opener at the Lawrence Batley Theatre later this month.

The Thrill of Love, written by Amanda Whittington and first performed in 2013, dramatises the true story of a woman who went to the gallows in 1955 at the age of just 28 after shooting her lover.

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

It is, says Lawrence Barker, who is directing for the Thespians, “a new play with a series subject matter that has natural-sounding dialogue and is cleverly written.” He adds that, unexpectedly: “It’s also quite funny. Laughs come out in the oddest of places.”

The execution of Ruth Ellis was one of the major news events of the 1950s and caused much controversy. It opened up the debate on the death penalty once more and there were calls for her actions to be deemed a crime of passion. Lawrence is old enough to recall something of the case.

He explained: “I was 14 when it happened and I remember the newspaper headlines and seeing it on cinema newsreels. There were pictures of the crowds outside Holloway Prison where she was hanged. There was no ‘diminished responsibility’ at that time, it wasn’t introduced until two years after her death.”

Lawrence Barker, directing The Thrill of Love for Huddersfield Thespians

Playing the part of Ruth for the Thespians is Poppy Stahelin, one of the company’s youngest actors. She will be joined on stage by Sarah Watson playing another real-life character, that of Vickie Martin, Ruth’s friend. The small cast of five is completed by Matthew Fairhead as Detective Inspector Gale, Liz Hoyle as Sylvia Shaw and Melanie Hudson as Doris Judd.

While Lawrence says Ruth, who worked as a nightclub hostess, does not emerge as a particularly likeable person, the play does reveal a lot about her life and her problems.

Huddersfield Thespians in rehearsal for The Thrill of Love

He explains: “She wasn’t a nice girl, but I have some sympathy and admiration for the way she faced her death. The hangman reported that she met her death bravely. A lot happened to her in her short life. She miscarried, lost her best friend (Vickie died in a road accident), and was jilted by her partner, a man she was deeply in love with. The play gives you a sense of the life the girls lived.”

Huddersfield Thespians rehearse The Thrill of Love

The Thrill of Love is being performed in the LBT’s Cellar, an intimate and atmospheric space for such an emotional play. Lawrence, whose connections with the Thespians go back to 1971, is relishing the chance to direct a work that tells such a dramatic story - it is his fourth outing as a director for the Thespians.

“The last play I directed was Misery (adapted for the stage from the Stephen King thriller) and I thought I wouldn’t be able to get another play as good as that - and then, lo and behold, along came this one,” he said.

The Thrill of Love can be seen from Tuesday, October 20, until Saturday, October 24.

Tickets are £12 from or 01484 430528.

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