Impact Arts caught up with the director, Laura Jayne Bateman, and producer, Aneesa Kaleem, of Nottingham New Theatre’s latest production, the explosive The Thrill of Love. We asked them a series of questions to find out all about the play’s thrills, spills and kills!
Can you tell us what the play is about?
Laura Jayne Bateman: The play is about Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain. It’s set in the early to mid-1950’s, and the play is told from the perspective of a police inspector. The play contains scenes where we see him in the present going over the case in hindsight, and then there are flashbacks to the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, when all the drama kicked off! The Thrill of Love follow’s Ruth’s life, and the events leading up to the crime that leads to her hanging.
What drew you to the play?
Aneesa Kaleem: There are a lot of strong female roles, which we thought would be great to explore, especially at this theatre where we have a lot of actresses auditioning. We wanted to give our actors something that would just grab people’s attention.
LJB: I completely agree. The script and characters are so well written, and even though it is a woman’s story, it is told in such a universal way. It has an added look at gender politics of the time; you’ve got Inspector Gale, who represents the patriarchal world of the time, and the women who are battling against that. There’s an acknowledgement of the gender issues of the post-war period within the play, and through the way it is written.
What are your biggest challenges as director and producer in putting on the production?
AK: This is the first time I’ve produced anything, but so far its run really smoothly. We were worried at one point we wouldn’t have a set – but we do now!
LJB: From my point of view, it has been really smooth, although it has been a challenge putting on The Thrill of Love on in three weeks. We initially asked for a later slot, so were a bit worried we wouldn’t get everything covered in time! We’ve been fortunate to have a fantastic group of actors, who are talented, focused and committed, so from that point of view, the challenge of time hasn’t been as difficult as we expected. It is a tough subject matter, so it’s been difficult for me as a director to approach that in a way that makes it raw and visceral on stage, but also respectful, and respectful of the actors.
So this is a play about the glamourous, and not-so glamourous side of the 1950’s. Why do you think it will appeal to UoN students?
LJB: Period dramas are so popular at the moment! We had And Then There Were None over Christmas, alongside Downton Abbey and Mr Selfridge. I feel that the early to mid-twentieth century is a very popular period of British history, but what I think is also great about this play is that it touches on themes that are relevant to modern audiences too, such as isolation, domestic abuse, friendship and breakdown of friendship and class. I think those themes, and the transition of people’s lives are just so relevant to students at university. We are in this bubble at university, and there is one character in the play who is at this transitional stage herself.
AK: Due to the relevant, contemporary themes, you can also use the play to educate. There are so many routes that are explored through the play, and a lot of the themes are quite dark and strong, but I feel it’s important to bring these themes to the fore. It’s a play about life, there’s so much happening!
No spoilers, but what is your favourite part of the play?
AK: The last scene! It’s just two characters onstage after the trial, and it’s intense. The emotion between the characters is really moving to watch, and a nice way to finish the play.
LJB: One of my favourite aspects of the play is the humour within it. On paper it sounds like such a grim, dark show, but there are some lovely moments. The girls are almost one big dysfunctional family, and the writing is so witty! It’s been a challenge to make sure we have got the light and shade in the writing represented on stage, alongside, for the audience the sense of enjoyment and also the shock at the play’s darker tones.
What can your audiences expect from the play?
LJB: A rollercoaster of emotion. Initially Ruth isn’t the most likeable character, because she’s tough and can come across as manipulative. As the play goes on, you get to see what is going on underneath, and what has made her the way she is. I find it really interesting that we view Ruth’s behaviour in a more negative light as she is a female character, than if a male character behaved in the same way. There are lots of parallels in the way that Gale and Ruth behave, but somehow, I feel the audience might judge Ruth more negatively for it. So I think perhaps, coming to watch this play, you might come to question your views of gender and feminism, and the way males and females are viewed in this society.
Do you feel any pressure in putting on a play by Britain’s ‘most consistently popular female dramatist’, according to The Guardian?
AK: It’s a little nervewracking getting the balance between all the different things that are going on right. There’s the humour and the darker themes all happening simultaneously, and the characters are so complex. They’ve been written in a way that there is constantly something going on within them. That getting the balance right is a bit of a challenge, but definitely working so far!
LJB: It is one of those plays that is done so much, but people don’t know it. It’s licensed by Nick Hern books, and was their most performed play last year. Amateur groups perform this play all over the country, I’m assuming because the female roles are so great. So I feel that there is a lot of performance history, and the original performance in 2013 did really well. Amanda Whittington’s writing is so great that there is a pressure to do it justice, but she makes it so easy as she writes so well!
Have you changed anything at all from the original text?
LJB: We’ve added a concept! The play is written in quite an open way, and the original production was set in a nightclub. We thought the setting needed to be more abstract, as the scenes jump locations so much. So we’ve decided on a film noir concept, and have stripped the play back. Rather than changed we’ve adapted!
Finally, can you sum up your production in three words?
‘The Thrill of Love’ is running at the Nottingham New Theatre from Wednesday 2nd March until Saturday 5th March. For more information and to book tickets, see the NNT website here.