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On 13th July 1955, 28 year old Ruth Ellis became the last woman to be hanged in the UK.

Just weeks earlier, on Easter Sunday, the peroxide blonde hostess had deliberately pumped a string of bullets into her violent lover David Blakeley (one, ill-aimed, ricocheted and injured a passer-by) before handing over the gun to an off-duty policeman and confessing her crime

Playwright Amanda Whittington has done her homework, looking into psychiatric and official reports of the time, but the structure mutes the noir-ish atmosphere created by Jonathan Fensom’s blood-red set and the accompanying Billie Holiday soundtrack. Ellis’s story is told through the well-worn device of a (fictional ) police inspector (the only man on stage) trying to get beneath the calm exterior she presented in court in order to understand why she offered nothing in the way of defence, refusing even to divulge how she came to have a loaded gun in her possession.

Still, the sad story of a much abused good-time girl - eager for fame, fortune and the flashy glamour offered by the wealthy clientele of the Knightsbridge nightclub she managed - is compelling. And Faye Castelow immerses herself completely in the character of Ellis, damaged by the men she met as well as by the miscarriages, abortions, booze and drugs which came with her chosen lifestyle. Louise Kingsley

St James, 21 Palace Street, SW1E 5JA
Tube: Victoria
Until 4th May | £15 - £40.00
stjamestheatre.co.uk

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