MONDAY 18th July 2022 was one of the hottest days on record in this country, and the heat lasted into the night, which in many places saw record temperatures. It was not a night to be in 1950s style clothes under theatre lighting.
So, firstly, congratulations on the professionalism of the Swan Theatre cast for the way they handled what must have been an incredibly uncomfortable evening.
It was inevitable that the heat would have an effect on both the performers and the audience – that kind of heat saps energy and there was a lethargic atmosphere in the theatre.
That said, there was plenty to admire in this production of The Thrill of Love, Amanda Whittington’s brilliant dramatisation of the story of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain.
Even before the play started, the set was obviously impressive – in his programme notes, director Mark Payne talks about the superb set design and atmospheric and detailed sound and lighting, and he is absolutely right. The stylised three-part set, including night-clubs, a dreary flat and police station, was designed by Annette Broughton, with lighting by Graham House and sound by Mike Stanley.
The play begins with gunshots, as Ruth kills her lover, David Blakeley. The action unfolds around Ruth, as Det Insp Jack Gale (Robert Graydon), a policeman in the film noir style, seeks to understand why.
The cast of five includes only one man – the detective. The other characters are all from Ruth’s life as a night-club hostess, Sylvia Shaw (Sarah Ambrose), the older woman who runs the clubs, Vickie Martin (Alice Browne), a young woman bent on success and finding a rich lover/husband, and Doris Judd (Rachael Alexander), Ruth’s loyal friend.
Everything revolves around Ruth Ellis and it takes a remarkable actress to carry that responsibility. Swan Theatre has such a performer in Sarah Nias.
Ruth continues to fascinate us, even now, nearly 70 years after her death. She’sbrittle, glamorous, quick-witted but doomed by her passion for a worthless, selfish man. Sarah Nias brings all her acting skills to the role – we sympathise with her plight as we watch her inexorable downward spiral into drink and financial problems as Blakeley exploits her infatuation to take her money.
The Thrill of Love continues to Saturday 23rd July. The Swan Theatre’s next production is Yasmina Reza’s The Unexpected Man, from 19th to 24th September.