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Coventry’s thought-provoking play about the last woman hanged

Criterion acrtress in play about Ruth Ellis

Criterion acrtress in play about Ruth Ellis

The true story of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain, is brought to the stage of the Criterion Theatre by a hugely talented cast of five, who together recreate the sleazy world of clubland in 1955.

In France this crime of passion would never have resulted in the death penalty.

And in the UK worse crimes had been committed without resorting to the hangman’s noose...in Ruth’s case her executioner was the legendary Albert Pierrepoint who went on to describe her as: “the bravest woman I ever hanged.” Real life Ruth was a mother who had bit part in a 1951 film, Lady Godiva Rides Again. She knew Stephen Ward, the society osteopath soon to be implicated in the Profumo affair and her hostess work brought her into contact with the glamorous racing driver set, including her lover, David Blakely

Lucy Hayton plays peroxided Ruth with a clenched, edgy brittleness that still shows us the vulnerability beneath. Her character contrasts well with the bounce and confidence of new hostess Vicki, not yet in possession of all the answers, but less used, and of an altogether tougher disposition.You feel Vicki would not have fallen hopelessly into a destructive love affair....but Ruth couldn’t help herself. I liked the world-weary poise of Sylvia, played by Deb Relton-Elves as the woman who did have all the answers, matched by the compassion of club cleaner Doris (Karen Brooks).

As the lone male, John Fenner sets the atmosphere as he narrates the story from the police’s point of view, probing Ruth for the truth while suggesting that she could have given herself a better case to put before the jury.

A tight, thought-provoking play, beautifully controlled by director Doreen Belton who is ably assisted by some terrific period clothes and hairstyles.

Barbara Goulden

 

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