The Thrill of Love: Preview

In 1955, Ruth Ellis shot and killed her abusive lover in cold blood. Convicted of the crime at trial, Ruth became the last woman to the hanged for murder in Britain. But what drove Ruth to kill David, her racing driver lover? Why did she plead not guilty to the murder at trial? Who was she trying to protect? Set in the seedy world of 1950s gentlemen’s clubs, The Thrill of Love by Amanda Whittington takes a fresh look at the infamous story of Ruth Ellis and the woman behind the headlines. 

A divorcee with a young child to care for, Ruth Ellis works in the kind of nightclubs where there’s more than just a drink on offer. The girls work hard, play hard and dream of a movie-star life. Then she meets the wealthy, womanising David, with whom she becomes obsessed. She also begins seeing Desmond Cussen, a man driven mad with jealousy by her tempestuous and often violent relationship with David. Whittington’s play focuses on Ruth’s interior life, as well as her friendship with three women all working the club scene: the dependable club owner, Sylvia, aspiring actor and model, Vickie and charwoman, Doris. These friends provide comfort to her as she battles abusive lovers and a rabid press. Meanwhile, Detective Jack Gale follows her story from the beginning, hoping to piece together the motive behind why she murdered David and, more importantly, whom she might be protecting.

The Thrill of Love will be performed by the Saddleworth Players at the Millgate Arts Centre, Delph, from Saturday 30 March until Saturday 6 April.

Directed by Sue Stephenson, the cast includes Rachael Mayor (Ruth Ellis), Phil Clegg (Jack Gale), Alison Bowers (Sylvia Shaw), Ruth Wild (Vickie Martin), and Emma Sykes (Doris Judd).

Tickets are available online from our booking site or from the box office at Delph Library (Tuesdays 2pm–5pm, Wednesdays and Thursdays 2pm–7pm, and Fridays and Saturdays from 9:30am–1pm). The box office telephone number is 01457 874644.

Playing Vickie Martin – a real-life model and actress

I play Vickie Martin (formerly Valerie Mewes) in the play, who was a real-life model and actress and close friend of Ruth Ellis. She is an ambitious girl and mixed with some very affluent and influential people but her own story turns out tragically too!

She cares deeply for her friend and tries (like others) to save her from the destructive relationships she has become embroiled in! Sadly, as we know, with no success!

The play is very emotional and reveals the true tragedy of a very vulnerable and damaged woman and, whilst there are a few funny moments, I’m sure there will be lots of tears too!

This is the first play I have been involved in with Saddleworth Players and it has been a fantastic experience. Working with such a talented cast and director has been a real honour and I’m very much looking forward to the week of the performance!

Ruth Wild plays Vickie Martin in Saddleworth Players forthcoming production of The Thrill of Love at the Millgate Arts Centre from 30 March until 6 April. Tickets from our booking site.

Ruth Wild

Perched and ready

19:15PM. Tuesday. February 5th 2019. Night three of Playhouse Creatures.

I’m currently sat on my little perch in the Millgate tech box, excited for another run of a great, gritty little show called Playhouse Creatures. I expect that the cast are just about ready, the audience are sipping their last pre-show drinks and, I hope, my sound operator colleague Emma Sykes is arriving at the theatre!

Playhouse is a show I’ve dabbled in before, doing tech for an extract performed in a –

^that was as far as I got before the aforementioned sound colleague arrived and it was time to gear up for the show. I’m now writing just post performance and I have to say; what a treat of a show Playhouse Creatures really is – both to work on and to watch.

April de Angelis has given us a gem. Five characters full of gusto and wit, some hilarious one liners – and she even managed to squeeze the Great Fire of London in, just for good measure!

My previous experience with the play meant I had dipped my toes into the world of these five women, the first on the British stage, before. But here’s the thing about dipping; only when I was invited to be part of Millgate’s production of Playhouse, by director Carol Davies, did I really get the chance to throw myself into de Angelis’ world of driven actresses, and the barrage of issues they grappled with. This is the story of the pioneers we never learn about – women. Five women of different backgrounds, generations and personalities; de Angelis offers us a microcosm of the thousands of women who, throughout history, have raised their heads above the parapet to enter previously male professions. The playhouse setting, of course, makes way for some fantastic drama and makes the huge personalities of the women totally believable. 

The period of the play gave us the opportunity to use beautiful restoration costume pieces (many of which were constructed by our very own Verity Mann!) and delve into the architecture of a 17th century playhouse during the design process. Whilst period pieces aren’t necessarily everyone’s cup of tea, this production is anything but dull. De Angelis has offered us the opportunity to be just a little bit irreverent, pointing out the imperfections in our beloved institution that is the theatre. Each of the five characters (Nell Gwyn, Elizabeth Farley, Rebecca Marshall, Mary Betterton and Doll Common) brings their story into the tiring room; we learn of how they entered the theatre, and how they were eventually pushed, or enticed out despite their talent and determination. Over the course of being involved in the show, I’ve come to feel resentment against the establishment when some of our leading ladies are forced out of their dear profession, and find solace in those who have the happier endings. 

We have a fantastic cast of actresses on hand to give justice to the depth of each of the women; Kate Davies brings boundless energy and an admirably assertive quality to young Nell Gwyn; she’s boisterous, gets what she wants and has that hopeful gleam in her eye – Kate’s youthful Nell implies the potential women’s contribution brought to the theatre all those years ago. Ann Wright’s impeccable comic timing brings out Doll Common’s humour, her gripping story-telling reminding us that it is her years spent in the Playhouse that have shaped her. Angela Bryan draws out the nuanced personality of Elizabeth Farley; Mrs Farley’s puritan background may have given her a hard exterior, but Angela ensures her moments of excitement, love and fear all shine through. Verity Mann plays a collected Mary Betterton – her years of commitment to her art mean she has developed the perfectly polite persona, but Verity shows us that it is being on the stage that sets Mrs Betterton’s heart on fire; her passion for the theatre knows no bounds. Mrs Marshall’s bold, proud and fiery disposition is portrayed fantastically by Liz Travis; she isn’t one to stand by and be quiet – this often makes her the bringer of great comedy.

As a designer and a technician, Playhouse Creatures is one of those joyous plays that never stops moving. Inside, outside, onstage, offstage. Market sounds, raucous tavern-eqsue hullaballoo, thunderous applause, rapidly spreading fire! It’s been great fun building the visual and auditory world of the Playhouse Creatures for all of us involved. There’s a lighting or a sound cue on most pages of the script. We like to think this reflects the pace of the show, and even the lives of the characters – these are busy women, the tiring room traffic never stops! However, whilst there is a laugh to be found in every scene, there are some truly poignant moments that remind us what the first actresses on the British stage had to deal with when they took that step into the spotlight. Their story is an important one – one I’m so glad I could be part of telling. I hope to see a few full auditoriums before the end of the run – it really is worth braving the February chill.

Jake Scott

Playhouse Creatures: review

This play is a thoughtful and sympathetic exploration of a little-explored subject: the lives and careers of the first female performers to appear on the London stage. It is set in the Restoration period of the seventeenth century and focuses on five women – real historical characters – and their theatrical fortunes in the bawdy, licentious times that followed the overturned Puritan regime of Oliver Cromwell.

The play has an all-female cast. Men only materialise as noises off, a chaotic mixture of whooping, heckling and a baying mob reaction that veers constantly between applause and jeering. Theatre-going was tremendously popular among the aristocracy, but that was no guarantee of polite behaviour; as one actress says, “louts and lords, lords and louts; who could tell the difference?” 

The action of the play is mostly behind the scenes, with brief forays onto the stage itself. The separate life-stories of the actresses emerge as they compare notes in between performances, their moods shifting from gloomy pessimism to fragile elation, from insecure bickering to loyal solidarity. They pin their hopes sometimes on their chances of a ‘rendezvous’ with a rich hanger-on, but these rarely go according to plan despite the opportunities to filch stage costumes so as to make a good impression. Much of the time they are weighed down by dread – of pregnancy, public humiliation or the certainty of growing old and being replaced by younger, fresher rivals. Also by their ever-present stage-fright: “You don’t know what that silence is like before you speak.” 

Carole Davies’s skilful direction does full justice to the complexities of the script. The performances never stiffen into caricature – the constant flux of their lives is sensitively conveyed. The stage-set and costumes are further strengths of the production. The play opens onto a gloomy, cavernous scene which gradually brightens as the precarious glory days of the theatre are re-enacted. There is a strong cast, with no weak links. Liz Travis and Angela Bryan give good versatile performances which cover a wide range of emotions from spitefulness and professional jealousy to wistful hope that somehow things will turn out right. Anne Wright is always convincing as the veteran backstage fixer who has seen it all, has no illusions about the realities of her trade, but has managed to survive with some of her fondness for the theatre still intact. 

The two most demanding parts are taken by Kate Davies and Verity Mann. Kate brings lots of freshness and naïve enthusiasm to her part as Nell Gwyn, the stage-struck young girl who grabs all the applause and attention and finally manages to shack up with King Charles. I’m not sure how historically accurate the script is here, but Kate carries the role off dashingly. Verity brings out all the subtleties of the part of Mistress Betterton, the leading lady and theatre manager’s wife. At first she seems as complacent and controlling as Lynda Snell in the Ambridge pantos, and her own acting style teeters constantly on the edge of melodrama. In the second half, however, we can see a more vulnerable, nuanced approach as she has to accept the realities of growing older. The contrast between her earlier rendering of Cleopatra and her later portrayal of Lady Macbeth is a piece of theatrical history in itself.

Altogether this is a praiseworthy production of an interesting play, well worth going out to see on a freezing cold night. It was thoroughly appreciated by the first-night audience, and I hope their numbers will swell as the run goes on.

Saddleworth Players production of ‘Playhouse Creatures’ at the Millgate Arts Centre runs from 2–9 February. Tickets from our booking site.

John Rigby