first night

The Thrill Of Love

Matthew Elliot-Ripley takes a trip back to the 1950s with Front Room Productions' debut show.

 Front Room Productions’ debut performance focuses on Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be executed in the UK after being convicted of the murder of her lover, David Blakely. Ellis’ conviction and trial generated huge amounts of public interest and director Olivia Race and her team should be congratulated for achieving such a compelling and subtle retelling of her story. Hatfield Chapel provides an intimate venue for the play, evoking a slow-burn film noir atmosphere with moody lighting, shelves stacked with liquor bottles and a crooning jazz soundtrack. In this world we meet the platinum blonde Ruth Ellis (played by Eliza Cummings-Cove) who fires six gunshots at her lover and immediately turns herself in to the police. Ellis herself is rarely seen alone – much of her private life is left a mystery – and the rest of the play follows her story from gentleman’s club hostess to murderess, snatching glimpses at her troubled life and abusive, obsessive relationships.
All of the actors gave strong, confident performances. Harvey Comerford as Inspector Jack Gale commanded the stage when narrating Ellis’ case to the audience, while Clementine Medforth, Shona Graham and Georgie Franklin provided excellent supporting roles as Ellis’ friends and co-workers. The dry Sylvia Shaw (Medforth), glamorous Vickie Martin (Graham) and maternal Doris Judd (Franklin) were portrayed with subtlety and sincerity, lending great emotional weight to the events in Ellis’ life. The star of the show, however, has to be Cummings-Cove as Ellis, delivering a vulnerable and emotionally intense performance without sacrificing the underlying strength and resolve of her character.
The venue itself no doubt provided obstacles for the production team, with traverse seating, but director Olivia Race has risen to the challenge by staging the show in an engaging and personal manner. It is a shame that one key moment in the first act occurred at ground level (invisible to any audience members not on the front row), but Race should be incredibly proud for creating a thrilling piece of theatre, particularly since it is her directorial debut. Tech director Nathan Chatelier should also be praised for effectively utilising the limited tech resources of the Chapel to great effect, particularly in terms of lighting, although at times the underscoring and sound effects did manage to drown out the actors’ lines.
While there were some line stumbles and hesitant sound cues, “The Thrill of Love” is a thoughtful and emotional piece with excellent performances all round, and I look forward to seeing what Front Room Productions has in store for the future.

6 November 2015

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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