Hyde Little Theatre

by Amanda Whittington

Directed by Carla Stokes


There are always things in society that provoke an emotional reaction, the most recent being plastic pollution. In the past there have been anti-war and nuclear arms demonstrations. Another emotive subject has been the death penalty, which was abolished in this country in 1969.


Not many of the younger generation will know of Ruth Ellis, unless they study modern history. The fact that she is famous for being the last woman in this country to be executed, aged 28, for the murder of her lover David Blakely. Her execution contributed to the abolition of the death penalty in this country, as members of the public felt there was a sense of injustice.


Stepping off the street in Hyde and entering through the doors into the auditorium we were immediately taken back to 1955. A haze of smoke filled the space and music from such singers as Ella Fitzgerald played quietly in the background. It truly felt like we had entered into a post war gentleman’s club. If that was the effect that was envisaged, then tick the achieved box.


The staging was very stripped back but offered functional space for the actors to move freely and become the focus. Any scene changes were conducted with the minimum amount of fuss and so did not detract attention from the unfolding story. The dark colours for the scenery quietly reflected the mood and time of the piece. The lighting plot, designed by Brian Smith, was excellent. The use of the different lighting bars front to back, along with the use of differing colours, really added to the ambience of the staging and gave clarity to the sense of place.


Detective Inspector Jack Gale (David Platt) guided the audience through the story and the facts that were used as Ruth’s confession. David was eerily omnipresent for the most part, giving an element of thoughtful contemplation to the case, even when he wasn’t involved directly in the scene.


Amy Evans, in the title role of Ruth, gave a range of emotions to the character. For most of the first act, she was quite unemotional, creating the persona that Ruth had accepted that she had committed a crime and would face the consequences with a dignified and stoic indifference. From the outset she states, “I am guilty”. The second act gave Amy more of an opportunity to express varied emotions. Especially moving was the gaol scene where she is resigned to her fate but you know that there is anguish as she continually wrings her hands. There were times when humour lightened darker scenes, as in requesting peroxide to make sure her roots were done for the trial.


The interaction between the members of the female cast was superb. There developed a warm connection between them, a bond that, if they stuck together and supported each other, they could make something of their lives in this man’s world.


Sue Penton, as Ruth’s friend, Sylvia Shaw, who helped develop her from hostess to running her own gentleman’s club, was very expressive. She was confident in her character and well-practised with the props she used. There was good intonation and pace in her dialogue and expressive reactions that conveyed meaning to everything she said. The bravery to drink a beaten egg and Worchester Sauce on stage deserved the reaction it got from the audience. Bravo!

Rachel Harrison, as the new girl, Vickie Martin, offered a sparring partner to Ruth’s character. She had the same goals in life and, unlike Ruth, was able to attain them, but at a cost. Rachel conveyed the humour of the character well and created great interaction between herself and Amy. Dialogue was delivered with appropriate pace to match the emotions she was conveying.


Sue Borg had some of the best dialogue in the play as Doris Judd, a humble charwoman who also had aspirations in life but not as high as those of the other women. The scene with Amy, when Ruth had been beaten again, was quite touching and poignant. Sue’s line delivery expressed a range of emotions, both humour and concern and, along with the facial reactions, we were in no doubt about what this character felt.


The audience never see “David Blakely” though he is discussed by the actors at length. The conclusion for the audience is that he was not a nice person, and that he abused Ruth terribly during their relationship. One wonders why she stayed with him.


This play attempts to give insights into the reasons of why, on Sunday 10th April 1955, Ruth shot and killed the man she kept returning to. We get a sense that Ruth was quite ambitious and wanted to be famous, emulating stars such as Diana Dors, and wanting a life of fame. In a perverse way that is what she got, but for all the wrong reasons. Whilst researching this play I spoke to my mother, who was a teenager at the time of the trial. She recalled reading about it in the papers and was of the opinion that Ruth Ellis had had a hard life and had been mistreated by the men in her life. She had sympathy with her case, and believed that today’s society would judge Ruth somewhat differently.


As Amanda Whittington said when writing the play, “I think, in a well known case like this, you need to read between the lines and search for the truths within”. I am sure that both the author and the director, Carla Stokes, aimed for this and in my opinion can again tick the “achieved” box.