Follow Me takes us into the worlds of the hanged and the hangman in the moments leading to Ellis' execution. Explaining her motives yet showing no remorse, she draws us into the mindset of one driven to commit the ultimate crime. Pierrepoint, the ultimate professional, but one who increasingly feels the moral pressure and growing public distaste for capital punishment and now plagued by doubts about the value of his life's work and the craft he has mastered, explains the mechanisms, both physical and psychological, of being a pub landlord by night and a public executioner by day.
Follow Me is an utterly fascinating tale about the British way of life... and death.
BRIGHTON FRINGE FESTIVAL 2008
WINNER: Brighton Evening Argus Herald Angel 2008
Nominated: Latest Seven Awards Best Male Performer, Best Female Performer
The 5-star review given to this production at last year's Brighton and Edinburgh Festivals remains accurate as the audience at the Komedia are shown a master class in performance. Beth Fitzgerald is captivating as Ruth Ellis, the wayward party girl convicted of murdering her lover and who will eventually become the last woman to be hanged in England . She gives such a complete depiction of this character, she moves between nervous mannerisms and moments of bluster and bravado, all totally believable. When Ellis's desperation to live beneath all her talk is finally revealed, it's devastating. Ross Gurney-Randall had the less demonstrative task in his portrayal of Arthur Pierrepoint. That said, he is equally skillful in giving glimpses of the anxiety at the heart of man who has devoted to his life to capital punishment to find that not only are times changing, but the moral absolutes on which he has depended have become uncertain. Rich, subtle and first-class all around. (Fringereview.com - 22/05/08)
Set in 1955, Follow Me tells the story of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain, and Albert Pierrepoint, her notorious hangman. Ellis murdered her unfaithful lover, shooting him five times. Pierrepoint is acutely aware of the moral dimensions of his work throughout, and keen to see its rules observed to the letter. It is from these rules that the play's staging is deftly contrived. In reality, the hangman will not meet his charge until the final moments, and so Ellis and Pierrepoint recount their stories separately in ever-shortening monologues.
In the absence of sparring partners, questions and demands are volleyed out from the stage at imagined warders, lawyers and friends amongst the audience.
Beth Fitzgerald plays the unrepentant Ellis with an abrasive and morbid humour, but carefully lets her stoicism falter throughout. Ross Gurney-Randall is excellent as the composed, workmanlike exe-cutioner, steeled to his task. Her accounts of the crime are counterpointed by his detailing of the impending process, but soon their concerns are drawn together outside the prison walls.
A protesting crowd can be heard, forcing Pierrepoint to question his resolve and his work, and Ellis to dwell on everything she has to lose. Both spiral down into disarray.
As quickly as it is reeled out, the action is sucked back inside the prison and builds to a frightening, claustrophobic climax, followed by total darkness.
This tremendous play carefully juxtaposes the strange intricacies of capital punishment with its great controversy, boasting wonderfully taut direction and captivating performances. (Joel Gunter - Brighton Evening Argus - 22/05/08)
ADELAIDE FRINGE FESTIVAL 2008
Capital punishment is on trial in this terrific two-hander. Ross Gurney-Randall and Doave Mounfield's look at the last woman hanged in Briatin is a powerful indictment that empasises the low deterrent value of an eye for an eye. Ruth Ellis ended her abusive destructive relationship with David Blakely when she gunned him down in hot blood, and this put her on the road to meeting England's infamous executioner Albert Pierrepoint. Director Guy Masterson elicits excellent performances from writer Gurney-Randall as Pierrepoint and Beth Fitzgerald as the unfortunate floozy Ellis. Gurney-Randall is in fine fettle as he reveals the secrets of his insidious craft while planning a swift painless exit for Ellis. (Matt Byrne - Adelaide Sunday Mail - 09/03/08)
Cor, f**k me. This was bloody brilliant.
Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be executed in the UK, sits quietly at a table as we file into the theatre. She looks very refined, proper. Beautiful. The audience in place, she launches into the most quoted line of her trial: "It's obvious when I shot him I intended to kill him."
And so starts this play, which alternates between the reactions of Ellis on death row, and the musings of her executioner, Albert Peirrepoint. Pierrepoint addresses the audience with the kind - but firm - voice of experience as if they were an apprentice. You can hear the professional pride in his voice - but, as the noises of protesters reach his ears and, more importantly, the trap-door test is inappropriately performed, you can sense the waver in his moral resolve.
As the performance progresses, we alternate between Ellis (revealing more and more about her crime, and her interactions with the prison staff) and Pierrepoint (backfilling his character with tales of previous executions). As the alloted time for the execution draws close, both characters become frayed; Ellis' cool exterior cracks with a final grasp for life, Pierrepoint's anger at the inappropriate treatment of Ellis.
Beth Fitzgerald is nothing less than stunning as Ellis; it's one of the best performances of the year for me. Ross Gurney-Randall, whilst not reaching the same levels of brilliance as Fitzgerald, puts in a solid performance of a man on the edge, a man proud of what he's done - but also beginning to question it, too. Masterson's direction is the refined exercise in minimalism that we're getting used to; stellar, nonetheless. In fact, the only fault I can find is with the ending; we're so pre-conditioned to starting the applause when the lights drop to black that I missed the inevitable clunk-and-dangle. But that's a minor quibble. This is one of the picks of the Fringe for me; brilliant, compelling theatre. (Festival Freak - 12/03/08)
Follow Me is set at Holloway Gaol, the night before Ruth Ellis is to be hanged for murdering her lover. The players are Ruth, the last woman to be hanged in the UK, and her executioner, Albert Pierrepoint. Pierrepoint was a legendary figure' not only because of his appointment as hangman, but also for his work in dispatching war criminals to their maker at Nuremberg in the aftermath of WWII.
Writer and actor Ross Gurney-Randall's orations as Pierrepoint are fascinating, giving an insight into how he approached an execution with the precision of a mathematician, the skill of an engineer, and the pride of a craftsman. His mantra was that it 'should be quick' and he displayed a surprising degree of care for his 'clients'. Contrastingly, the character of Ellis is grippingly portrayed by Beth Fitzgerald, tracing her history to the tragic events and piecing together the jigsaw puzzle of neuroses and traumas that made her what she was.
Both portrayals are excellently executed (pardon the pun) and the spare, pointed direction has the pedigree of Guy Masterson written all over it.
If you love theatre, pure and simple, see Follow Me. (Maggie Moore - Adelaide Theatre Guide - 05/03/08)
This taut and intense piece of serious theatre comes from the UK, directed by Guy Masterson and performed by one of its writers, Ross Gurney-Randal with Beth Fitzgerald. It's a grim portrait of imminent execution from two perspectives - that of the executioner and the condemned. It is based on a famous UK case, that of murderer Ruth Ellis and her executioner Pierrepoint, who was notorious for the number of criminals he executed and who is conveyed in this play as a particularly complex and fascinating character. Each express their perspectives as if addressing invited witnesses to the death. For her, it was crime passionnel.
For Pierrepoint, it was all about professionalism. Performances by the two British actors are exquisitely finessed.
It is a very austere and direct production which, one suspects, would have thrived in the intimacy of Bakehouse rather than the clunky Pastry Room. In short: Tense and intense. (Samela Harris - Adelaide Advertiser - 05/03/08)
Follow Me is powerful and emotive theatre that raises the old Frankenstein conundrum: just who is the monster in the piece? The woman who killed her lover in a fit of jealousy or the hangman who has dispatched more than 400?
Stripped back to two actors on a stage bare of props but for two chairs, two tables and a leather strap, it tells the story of England's most prolific executioner, Albert Pierrepoint, and Ruth Ellis, the last woman he hanged. The play covers the final hours of Ellis's life and is presented as a series of monologues until the final, brief interaction between hangman and victim.
Ross Gurney-Randall - who co-wrote Follow Me with Dave Mounfield and has already appeared as Goering in another Guy Masterson production this Fringe - is masterful as Pierrepoint. He prowls the front of the stage, with a bulldog expression on his face and an eye so unflinching that it makes the audience squirm.
Beth Fitzgerald is perfect as the condemned woman, shifting from stoical to satirical and finally to hysterical as she tells the story of her tragic downfall. The dialogue is taut, with never a word wasted. With the simple soundtrack, it builds tension to snapping point, leaving the audience members perched on the edges of their seats waiting for the final inevitable drop. The Pastry Bakery until March 16.(Georgia Gowling - Adelaide Independent Weekly - 05/03/08)
Adelaide Fringe '08 Punter's Reviews
Checkmate wrote: A great show - Guy Masterson has done it again! The story of the last woman hanged in Britain makes for interesting theatre. Beth Fitzgerald is just superb as Ruth Ellis.
Fringefunctionary wrote: New to this so forgive... BRILLIANT. SIMPLE. Not seen anything like it. Two actors, two stories, intertwined but seperate, on stage together but not seeing each other, and when they eventually meet in the last 15 secs of the play and you are drained of every emotion you can summon. AMAZING.
Theatre Bozo wrote: Beth Fitzgerald is amazing. The show is amazing. Best play on the fringe. I went after seeing Guy Masterson's extraordinary American Poodle. You should go to both. They are fantastci. Is Miss Fitzgerald the best actor on the fringe? I think so.
SillyBilly wrote: Another Five Hat Show for Guy Masterson...! If there is an award for consistency then this man should get it. EVERY.... EVERY one of his shows have been sensational. This is no exception. I could not wait. It was the last of the five and it did not disappoint. Simple, powerful, moving. Fitzgerald is a godess. Gurney-Randall (who was fantastic as Goering) is equally good as Pierrepoint. This is the standard the Adelaide Fringe should aspire to. LISTEN UP! The bar has been raised...
Paul wrote: An excellent production with two brilliant performances. Guy Masterson's direction was perfect. The use of sound, and the minimalist set led to a gripping 60 minutes. Ross Gurney-Randall deserves special mention, as his depiction of Albert Pierrepoint was without flaw. Beth Fitzgeral also gives a stirling performance, but Gurney-Randall truly shines. Whilst not quite at the standard of last year's Animal Farm, this is a very solid 4 star show that you will not be disappointed with.
Seanitall wrote: WHAT A FANTASTIC PLAY! Actually two monolgues coming toghether in the climactic final scene. Both the actress playing Ruth Ellis and The actor playing Pierrepoint are superb... but the real accolades go to Guy Mastesron the director - who has created a masterpiece of tension and drama. Simple lighting. Clever sound. This is a stunning piece of theatre. The best yet... and that is saying something! PS: The theatre is noisy and terrible so sit as neer to the front as possible!
Reviews from Edinburgh 2007
WINNER: THE HERALD ANGEL
WINNER: FRINGEREVIEW.COM BEST PLAY
NOMINATED: THE STAGE AWARD - BEST ACTRESS (Beth Fitzgerald)
WINNER: HERALD ANGEL 2007 Ruth Ellis was the last woman in Britain to be hanged, who whether by good luck or the sheer crime-of-passion glamour of her circumstances, became an accidental pin-up girl for capital punishment's abolitionists. The man who put the noose round her neck, Albert Pierrepoint, wasn't nearly so pretty, but in his own way became equally iconic.
Ross Gurney-Randall and Dave Mounfield's play puts the spotlight on both parties in the lead up to the final 15 seconds - because that's all it takes - of Ellis' life. While Ellis sits in her cell, going over things one last time to her lawyer, writing to her murdered lover's parents, Pierrepoint gossips about his fellow executioners via a series of bar-room anecdotes as he makes preparations.
In Beth Fitzgerald's hands, Ruth is a brittle, social-climbing bottle-blonde post-war glamour girl. Like some back-street Dorothy Parker, she's painted here as the epitome of gallows humour. By contrast, Gurney-Randall's Pierrepoint carries the air of a self-made man with the gait of a professional wrestler, taking pride in his work like any other civic dignitary. "Sober and discrete" is his patrician-like maxim, and one shudders to think how quickly executions, whether authorised or not, would end up on YouTube today.
Fitzgerald is on cracking form as Ruth, all second-hand movie star moves and fragile but still flirty bravado. Gurney-Randall is a bluff, gruff counterpoint as Pierrepoint in Guy Masterson's simple but effective staging, which allows Gurney-Randall and Mounfield's script space enough to breathe in a damning but all-too human indictment of how the scales of justice can be corrupted. (Neil Cooper - The Herald - 08/08/07)
A play about the executioner and the condemned is an intimidating prospect, and rightly so. Everything about Follow Me is deceptively simple; the bare set, the two-person cast, and the lack of interaction, dialogue or practically any action at all. Dave Mounfield and Ross Gurney-Randalls' writing provides only a series of monologues for the executioner Pierrepoint, and the murderer Ruth Ellis. But through this their remarkable individual characters and Ellis's tragic life story unfurl with quiet and devastating effect. As Pierrepoint, Gurney-Randall presents his character, fully formed even in his opening sentences, as rational, caring and yet totally cold to the implications of his 'duty'. Fitzgerald's Ellis is an outstanding frank and agonising portrait of an unspeakable situation. Heartbreaking and disturbing, but thoroughly worthwhile theatre. (Victoria Prest - Three Weeks - 20/08/07)
This compelling play explores the horrors and hypocrisies of capital punishment through the stories of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in the UK, and Albert Pierrepoint, her executioner. And whilst the monologue format may initially seem rather predictable, the observations contained within it are compelling and strong. Beth Fitzgerald is brilliant as the vivacious Ellis, accurately capturing her façade of flippant humour and false bravado, whilst Ross Gurney-Randall effectively embodies the focused composure of Pierrepoint. It's impossible to dislike either Ellis or Pierrepoint, who come out feeling more like victims of a flawed system than malicious killers. Ellis seems to have killed her husband out of self-defence and Pierrepoint wants to save the about-to-be-hanged from the unnecessary suffering other hangmen care little about. As the day of the hanging draws near, the characters' composures start to break. It's a fascinating insight into what happens when two strong individuals are put under the extreme pressure of waiting to die and waiting to kill. Whilst there are moments when this sense of bubbling tension loses stream, generally it builds up well to the tragic conclusion. Written by Gurney-Randall and Dave Mounfield, the huge amount of research never overshadows the action. This clear and well-conceived play is simply staged by director Guy Masterson, who recognises that this is all that is needed. By the end, we are left to consider the blurred boundaries between crime and punishment, and how the definition of "murderer" depends upon the fickle fancy of the media. Despite the subsequent abolition of capital punishment, it's a thought that still feels relevant. (Sally Stott The Scotsman 11/08/07)
"Guy Masterson has been bringing quality work to the Edinburgh Fringe for many a year, with the likes of Animal Farm & Under Milk Wood to name but two. So is this year any different? Does Follow Me follow in the footsteps of Masterson's previous triumphs? Answer: YES!
In 1955 Chief Executioner Albert Pierrepoint is set to hang Ruth Ellis, a media star for her crimes. Will the media and the people be able to turn around what seems to be a done deal? Will Ellis hang for her crime? Is she ready to accept her fate?
Randall & Mounfield have created a wonderfully written script that has drama, truth, depth and finds humour in the darkest of places. They take the audience into the cell of the doomed Ellis and give them a role to play in the unravelling tale of her life and her pending death.
Masterson's direction is simple, fluid and to the point, never complicating the flow of the story. He does a great job and plays to the strengths of the script and characters. Both Pierrepoint and Ellis are played to perfection, with fire, emotion and dark humour. Beth Fitzgerald puts in a powerhouse performance as Ruth Ellis, who drags you into every emotion that the jailbird feels.
Follow Me is a dark, warm, funny and powerful piece of theatre with a superb cast. I hope more and more people follow me to see such an excellent show." (Wayne Miller - British Theatre Guide - 06/08/07)
"On a black stage against a black curtain, there are two tables and two chairs, two bottles of beer, and two characters: Ruth Ellis, sentenced to be 'hanged by the neck until you are dead', and the man who is responsible for doing it, Albert Pierrepoint, Her Majesty's Chief Executioner. The play, which takes place over the twenty-four hours leading up to the execution, is structured as a series of one-sided dialogues in which the audience assumes the role of dumb interlocutor. Pierrepoint instructs staff at Holloway Prison, sharing his top tips on execution technique; Ellis, fiddling nervously with a jigsaw, repeats the salient details of the case to her lawyer Mr Bickford, and then recites a few letters.Pierrepoint has the air of a chummy publican moonlighting as executioner, and proves to be a surprisingly affable and engaging prescence, although he is played with a little too much working-class bluster and good cheer by Ross Gurney-Randall. Beth Fitzgerald's Ruth Ellis is a gaunt and haggard figure, who stares through her gem-studded spectacles with preamturely dead eyes. Fitzgerald is suitably disturbed in the role, a perfect antidote to Pierrepoint's frighteningly warm Yorkshireman in a play which offers many small pleasures. In contrasting ways, they form a morbid pair, dominated by their dealings with death, but the atmosphere of dread and remorse is punctuated by flashes of wit. Ellis initially appears blasé about her encroaching fate, before relishing its potential for verbal play. 'I'd kill for a cigarette', she says at one point. Viewers may find the tension leaves them with a similar craving for relief." (Skinny Fest - 15/08/07)
"Follow Me opens curiously with a bespectacled woman putting a jigsaw puzzle together whilst jazz standards play in the background. She is Ruth Ellis, the last woman in Britain to be sentenced to death, and she is about to be hanged.
Her case was one of a number of actually or possibly unsound judgements which lead to the abolition of capital punishment in the United Kingdom. Ellis was also among the last to be executed by Albert Pierrepoint, whose own curious career as the most well-known executioner in Britain was the subject of a recent film.
The Wildman Room provides a suitably claustrophobic space for an exploration of these two individuals, and the circumstances which have brought them to such proximity. Although both characters exist within the confines of the prison in which Ellis is to meet her fate, they do not encounter until the final moments of the play, spending the best part of an hour in anticipation of this, inventing each other like putative lovers imagining their first assignation.
Sex and death are very much on the minds of Albert Pierrepoint (Ross Gurney-Randall) and Ruth Ellis (Beth Fitzgerald), although much of what they may have wished from life remains hidden, most especially from themselves.
Ellis was charged with and convicted of the murder of her lover, David Blakely, and the case became notorious, partly through the public outcry which ensued and a sense of injustice which has endured even though a judicial review of the case upheld the original verdict as recently as 2003.
Fitzgerald's Ellis is composed and sure of herself for much of the play, which makes her late breakdown, when it is announced that there will be no reprieve as anticipated, the more credible. Ross Gurney-Randall's Pierrepoint is solidly conceived and delivered, although his character's journey is perhaps less extensive and demanding than Fitzgerald's.
Follow Me is not simply a meditation on a single controversial judgement, but a consideration of the whole question of both the morality of capital punishment and the methods used to impose it in one country at one particular time. It may not be to the taste of a) those of a squeamish disposition (there is much on the mechanics of execution), b) those uninterested in recent history (there's a lot of reality to digest in 75 minutes), c) those who imagine there's nothing wrong with capital punishment in the United States that a few more gallows and hanging judges couldn't cure.
Although (and perhaps because) we spend so long imaging Ellis' and Pierrepoint's brief encounter its actual moment falls rather flat. It's difficult to imagine an alternative, and what is, is perfectly well managed, but nonetheless feels like a script resolutely painting toward the last remaining corner.
Nonetheless, this is a show which does not disappoint in any other respect, and deserves the attention of the thoughtful audiences it's sure to get." (Bill Dunlop - Edinburghguide.com - 06/07/07)
"One of the must-see shows of Fringe!
Ruth Ellis (Beth Fitzgerald) is sharing her last hours on death row with us. We also meet Albert Pierrepoint (Ross Gurney-Randall) the Executioner charged with the humane hanging of Ms Ellis. From the onset, the audience were addressed as if the females were prison warders charged with her care and the men as her escorts to the gallows. I found this very disconcerting at first but it suited the atmosphere of the piece perfectly.
Beth Fitzgerald as Ruth began with a quiet dignity, which dissolved into despair when she discovered there would be no stay of execution. Ross Gurney-Randall should know exactly what Pierrepoint is thinking at any one time as he wrote the play. His matter of fact approach to the subject matter is both fascinating and unnerving. These two superb performances along with Guy's impeccable direction and the amazing writing blend together in one of the must-see shows of Fringe 2007." (one4review.com - 07/08/07)
THE STAGE - MUST SEE! Terrifyingly intoxicating!
Over the years Guy Masterson has given Edinburgh some marvellous theatre, and more recently in venues filling by hundreds rather than dozens. It is so refreshing therefore to see him return to the intimacy of a chamber play - one whereby he gets to combine some handpicked talent into a powerful cocktail of glamour, suspense and thought-provoking drama.
The subject of this dual monologue is the historical event of the last female execution in Britain - that of Ruth Ellis, hanged by the former Nuremberg executioner Albert Pierrepoint. Gurney-Randall, a skillful author of his monologue, portrays Pierrepoint as a conscientious and thoughtful man who only hardens at a notion of a threat to the procedure. Ellis, meanwhile, is initially stiff-upper-lip witty - some nervous energy simmering under the catseyes. But as the murmuring masses outdoors unsettle Pierrepoint's cool, Ellis begins to let us in on her maternal fears and her anger at the irony of her fate. Essentially this piece poses a puzzle of three different kinds of killing, and the power of the popular verdict. By extension, the piece as a whole is terrifyingly intoxicating - and its moral up to your own judgment.... (The Stage 08/08/07)
"An outstanding piece of writing!"
It might sound like a grim way to begin the afternoon, but two-hander Follow Me, by Ross Gurney Randall and Dave Mounfield, is an outstanding piece of writing, here given a superb production by Guy Masterson's TTI. The two performances are simply terrific. Ruth Ellis is waiting to be hanged. Albert Pierrepoint is preparing to hang her. A crowd of protesters outside are chanting. The other roles - a group of men assisting with the execution, and a woman talking with Ellis in her cell - are assigned to the audience.
What makes Follow Me such a riveting experience is the way in which the text introduces two fascinating characters while simultaneously posing so many crucial questions about humanity, celebrity and justice.
This is a period piece about a historically significant event - Ellis was the last woman to be hanged in Britain - but its contemporary resonance is striking. It's difficult to resist trying to devise a new defence case for Ellis, taking into account provocation or temporary insanity, while Pierrepoint's angry condemnation of US executions includes casually gruesome details that one fears may still be applicable 50 years on.
Appropriately, the play contains a liberal sprinkling of gallows humour: Albert describes how his father 'showed him the ropes' of his occupation, while bad-taste jokes pepper Ellis's conversation as she becomes increasingly fraught.
The two performances - by Beth Fitzgerald as Ellis and Ross Gurney-Randall as Pierrepoint - are simply terrific. One would expect a chill down the spine during the closing moments of a drama about a hanging, but when the condemned woman finally acknowledges her fate the ripples of horror feel like a brief haunting. (Shona Craven - OnstageScotland.com - 07/08/07)
"Theatre at its absolute best!"
The Nightingale Theatre in Brighton played host to this Edinburgh Preview of Guy Masterson's production of Follow Me, written by David Mounfield and Ross Gurney-Randall. This drama about the imminent execution of Ruth Ellis is shown through her own eyes, and the eyes of her executioner, Great Britain's premiere Hangman, Albert Pierrepoint.
Ellis was sentenced to death at the Old Bailey for shooting her lover, 25-year-old racing driver David Blakely, outside the Magdala public house in north London. Albert Pierrepoint was Britain's most prolific hangman, executing 400 people - including Ruth Ellis. Yet his wife, and the drinkers at the pub he ran, never knew. He truly was the "secret executioner." Here we enter his world, and world of the woman he had the task of hanging.
In Follow Me, we are given direct insight into the thoughts, feelings and experiences of both Ellis and Pierrepoint, in an intimately staged piece which makes simple but effective use of the Nightingale studio space. The audience is addressed directly in a series of monologues by both characters, who only meet at the very end, when Ellis is invited by Pierrepoint to Follow Me. Yet the heart of this piece is really an invitation to the audience to "follow" them into this world at the precipice of mortality.
A collection of soliloquies, and the use of some clever alienation as we, the audience, are addressed as the witnesses to the execution to come, briefed by Pierrepoint, confided in by Ellis, all combined for a piece of genuinely electric theatre. The writing is engaging and often moving, it's witty and the humour that comes in the midst of a preparation for the ending of life, is sharp and only adds to both the chill of the moment, and the tragedy of the hour.
It's a truly inspired script, the authors have researched their subject well and there is such a lot of well observed detail, we're drawn into the lives of these two people, into an external world of cells, clanking doors, footsteps, as well an inner landscape of regret, reflection, fear, sadness, irony and anger.
Pierrepoint is both humourous and yet exacting in his rationale and method. He becomes a man of principle who believes firmly in the correct "artfulness" of his task. He has little faith in the powers that be, for whom he carries out his duties. The impressive Ross Gurney-Randall has created a Pierrepoint who sighs when he remembers "how it used to be", a man full of stories to tell, tips and wisdom to impart. He brings depth to the character. He creates a consumate teller of tales, imparter of experience that dates back to the hanging of Nazis at Nurenberg.
Beth Fitzgerald's Ellis is utterly engaging from the first moments, on a bare stage of just table and chairs, she's stepped into this party-girl turned pariah character, and I cried with her at the end, and laughed with her and her superb comic timing throughout.
She portrays Ellis as a likeable-dislikeable enigma, whose poise cracks at the end, and our own human fears are thrown back in our faces, as we share a cell with her, her fears and her terrible regrets. Five star performances from both actors.
But this is a five-star show. Five star sound adds to the atmosphere and supports the narrative, simply and effectively. In true Guy Masterson style, we have bare theatre, brought to dramatic life by the skills of very tight direction, and beautifully paced performances. if I have one quibble it is that the piece might benefit from just a small shortening. After an hour the sheer emotional power starts to trip over a lot of the "information" given to us via the two characters. But it's a minor criticism in an example of theatre at its absolute best. (Paul Levy - Fringereview.com 25/07/07)
Edinburgh Punter's Reviews
I cried! 24/08/07 - reviewer: Danielle Gordon, UK
What powerful acting, I simply felt every emotion. Actors were so clear and I couldn't help my chest heaving with sadness, despair and the sense of duty. Truly amazing acting.
Hair raising! - 22/08/07 - reviewer: Ken M, US
Stunning performances from two great actors, and brilliant writing and direction. Best I've seen at the Fringe so far. Extraordinarily moving.
21/08/07 - reviewer: John McGlynn UK
You won't see a better production than this on the fringe. Tautly directed, well written and quite chilling in parts (the audience forced to think about the grim mechanics of killing someone and their own views on capital punishment)it features a stand out performance from Beth Fitzgerald, who takes the audience from ambivalence to pity in just over a hour. Stunning.
17/08/07 - reviewer: Jonathan Smith, UK
The play is a pair of alternating monologues spoken by an executioner and a condemned woman, which come together briefly at the end to devastating effect. The condemned is Ruth Ellis and the executioner, Albert Pierrepoint, both of whom address the audience as witnesses to the ensuing tragedy. Both characters are initially composed, Ellis with the bravado of the unrepentant and provoked killer, Pierrepoint with the dispassion of an experienced professional. As the play unfolds, however, the certainty of both crumbles amidst the media circus as they explain their position. By the end, it is unclear who is the more distraught, Ellis at her rough justice, or Pierrepoint at the dubious morality of his increasingly controversial work. The quality of the production is such that the end of the play, although inevitable, is both brutal and shocking. In short, the play is a powerful indictment on capital punishment.
Fantastic! 07 Aug 2007 - reviewer: Fiona , Edinburgh
A fantastic production. The performances were so entirely convincing, both moving and humorous at the same time. Well worth a repeat visit.
Highly Effective Drama! 07 Aug 2007 reviewer: Gilly, United Kingdom
On the surface a fairly simple re-telling of two oft-told stories. No tricks, no skewing of events. What made this so compelling was the quality of the writing and the pitch perfect delivery o both performances. My companion and I were both utterly gripped throughout. Who needs complicated sets etc. Excellent writing,acting and direction plus a few well placed sound effects can achieve wonders. Congratulations to all concerned.
Excellent! 06 Aug 2007 reviewer: Kirsty R, United Kingdom
Both Pierrepoint and Ellis are beautifully protrayed. Captivating.
Powerful and Moving! 05 Aug 2007 reviewer: Tim, Edinburgh
Not really a two-hander, more like two intertwined monologues which come together at the end. Both excellent performances, Pierrepoint planning everything down to the second but gradually losing his conviction, Ellis confidently expecting a reprieve, gallows humour from both of them, and a dramatic finale. Simple set, good use of sound effects, and I'm sure everyone in the audience was timing the last scene.
Gripping 05 Aug 2007 reviewer: Elaine M, United Kingdom
This outwardly simple vehicle depicts the last hours of Ruth Ellis (Beth Fitzgerald) as her execution is meticulously prepared by Pierrepoint ( Ross Gurney-Randall), a bluff Lancastrian with a long history of giving a good death via the drop. The action simply shifts between the two, allowing both actors and the audience to focus in on these complex characters. I saw this in preview and was held enthralled by the quality of the performances. Quite simply, this becomes real. The characterisation of Ellis in particular is deeply moving, and their meeting in the final scene ,respectful and peaceful in the face of death, is counterpointed in the next few seconds by the shocking noise of the drop. Highly recommended.