THE Thrill of Love had a very special rehearsal scheduled last week at Ilkley Playhouse.

Amanda Whittington’s noir-esque thriller, set in the 1950s, explores the story of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain. Last week the cast and crew were delighted to receive a visit from Amanda Whittington herself, to discuss the play and characters with them.

Amanda’s interest in the story stemmed from Shelagh Delaney’s 1985 film dramatisation Dance with a Stranger, which absorbed her but also left her feeling that much of the story remained unexplored. Amanda wanted to tell the complex story of how women like Ellis had a stark choice in life – either factory work, monotonous and poorly-paid, or trying their luck as hostesses in the seamy gentlemen’s clubs of the age, where they could earn more money, and could – just possibly – rise in life.

Amanda explained to the cast that she was interested in how the women, despite being willing participants, paid a terrible price in terms of psychological damage. She was also drawn to how the women bonded together, and how their informal support networks worked. It was interesting to hear that the first draft of the play had an all-female cast, before Amanda realised that the sympathetic character of police inspector Jack Gale was needed, to help the audience to investigate what drove Ruth to murder. This also offset any risk of the play having an ‘all men are evil’ message, which was not what Amanda wanted to imply.

Amanda also explained that the smoky Billie Holiday soundtrack, which is integral to the play, evokes both the popular culture of the time, and the ‘femme fatale’ atmosphere of the story. It also serves to articulate the pain Ruth and the other women felt.

It is an unusual privilege for the cast to be able to discuss their roles with the writer, and were very grateful to Amanda for taking the time to come along. Nikki Ford, who plays Ruth, said: “Amanda clearly still has a passion to explain the injustice suffered by Ruth Ellis”. Joanne Martin, who plays nightclub manager Sylvia, said: “It was fantastic to meet a famous writer and discuss the part I am playing with her.”

Becky Hill, who plays Doris (described by Amanda as the ‘Cinderella character’) said: “Having been in both Ladies Day and Be My Baby [two other Whittington plays], I think she’s a brilliant writer and I confess I was starstruck to meet her.”

It’s fantastic to get Amanda’s seal of approval for the production and we are very fortunate that she would like to return to the Playhouse for the performance on Friday, January 25, when she will discuss the play with the audience.

This intriguing and gripping drama opens on Thursday, January 17 and runs until Saturday, January 26.

And readers are still in time to sign up for the Poetry and Novel course that starts at Ilkley Playhouse on Thursday, January 24. Participants will discuss poems inspired by four novels, and can examine the lives of the authors and the critical context. The course runs weekly from January 24. More information can be found on the Ilkley Playhouse website.

Tickets for The Thrill of Love can be bought online at or by calling 01943 609539 during box office opening times.

by Claire Emmott