Whittington is the most frequently performed female playwright in the country, but her works don’t make national headlines.
Based in Nottingham, where she trained as a journalist, her plays are full of women. Several have been performed in the south west, including Be My Baby at Salisbury, The Wills Girls at Bristol and most recently Ladies Day, also at Salisbury. None are musicals, but all have a strong musical backdrop and concentrate on aspiration.
In The Thrill of Love, two young women want to be famous, and both end up dead.
The story of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in England, is familiar. She shot her womanising lover at close range, admitted her guilt, and was despatched by Albert Pierrepoint at the age of 28.
Whittington’s play is told in flashback. A police inspector, responsible for finding out more about the events leading up to the shooting, meets the people involved and they tell their stories.
Patricia Richardson’s intense and insightful production, played out on a set of nightclub reds and glittering glass with Billie Holiday in the background, brings the London nightlife of the 1950s to visceral life.
Nightclub manager Sylvia Shaw (a complex performance by Louise Thomas) has an almost maternal concern for her “girls” and Ruth is her favourite. But try as she may to help this single mother to a career, Ruth’s passion for David Blakeley is inescapable.
Her best friend was Valerie Mewes, who changed her name to Vickie Martin and claimed friendship with screen stars of the time. She died in an unexplained car accident weeks before Ellis’s murderous exploit in Hampstead.
Harriet Snell plays Ruth with all the brittle desperation and cold calm of this unfortunate woman, and Laura Giselle Hardie is Vickie, determined, glamorous and reckless.
There’s a terrific performance by Tiffany Hannam-Daniels as the cleaner at the club, and the faultless cast is completed by Stewart Barlow as the policeman.
Touring to different venues is bound to throw up glitches, and here the music was sometimes too loud, obliterating the voices for a few moments. But it’s a minor point.
Performances continue at Wimborne Tivoli on Sunday 22nd March, the Regent Centre in Christchurch on Tuesday 24th, the Mowlem Theatre in Swanage on Thursday 26th and The Exchange at Sturminster Newton on Sunday 29th March.