Maxine Peake plays Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain.
Starring alongside a cast that includes Siobhan Finneran and Joe Armstrong, Amanda Whittington’s hit stage transfer imagines the role played by the women close to Ruth during the months between Ruth’s murder of her lover David Blakely and her subsequent death by hanging.
Framed with interviews and laced with the music of Billie Holiday, this is an intimate, evocative and thought provoking drama directed by Kate Chapman.
Writer Amanda Whittington Director Kate Chapman Producer Justine Potter Executive Producer Melanie Harris Sound Design by Eloise Whitmore Music by Billie Holiday
The writing of Carson McCullers has perhaps never been as popular or acclaimed as that of contemporaries such as Harper Lee and Tennessee Williams, but nonetheless she remains one of the most remarkable and individual writers to come out of twentieth century America. She only wrote a few works, in large part because rheumatic fever left her paralysed in her left arm, and she was beset by ill health and alcoholism for many of her fifty years. Her writing style was enormously sensuous, filled with the heat, sounds and smells of the American south, and the characters who populated books like 'The Ballad of the Sad Cafe', 'The Heart is a Lonely Hunter' and 'A Member of the Wedding' were most commonly troubled misfits. Her personal life was similarly idiosyncratic – the man she married twice committed suicide having tried to get her to do the same – though it is her very particular writing style, with a strong musicality drawn from the years she spent training as a classical pianist, that has made many of her fans so vociferous in their attachment to her. Jarvis Cocker hears from a number of them, including academic Carlos Dews, author Laura Barton and musician Suzanne Vega, who has not only written and starred in three versions of a play about Carson, but often feels herself to be in conversation with her spirit.
Jarvis explains his own personal devotion, explaining how Carson's ability to bypass the brain and connect straight to the heart is what makes her such an important figure to him.
I will assume thy part in some disguise And tell fair Hero I am Claudio —Much Ado About Nothing (1.1.316)
The actress Charlotte Cushman was a theatrical icon in 19th century America, known to the press by her first name, like Beyonce today. Her fame was not, however, for conventionally Victorian feminine portrayals.
Cushman specialized in playing male roles, principally Romeo and Hamlet, competing on equal terms with leading actors like Edwin Forrest and Edwin Booth. She was not the only actress of her time to attempt these parts, but Cushman’s style was uniquely assertive and athletic. When Queen Victoria saw Cushman as Romeo, she said she couldn’t believe it was a woman playing the part.
Rebecca Sheir, host of the Shakespeare Unlimited podcast series, interviews Lisa Merrill, professor in the Department of Performance Studies at Hofstra University and author of When Romeo Was a Woman, about Cushman’s professional and personal life, including her off-stage romantic partnerships with women and her changing public image after death.