Citizens’ Theatre, Glasgow, Tue 30 Sep-Sat 4 Oct
Drawing a dazzling trail of four and five-star reviews since its world premiere at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe last year, Follow Me is a sparsely staged emotive tale about Ruth Ellis, the last woman hanged in Britain, which has arrived on stage via the canny hand of Fringe hitmeister, Guy Masterson. ‘It’s lovely when things like that happen, but we didn’t bet for commercial success,’ says Masterson of the overwhelmingly positive response. ‘We just developed a dramatic piece with a real solid core.’
Composed of two monologues, written by Ross Gurney-Randall and Dave Mounfield and spliced together by Masterson, Follow Me dramatises the last moments of Ellis (Beth Fitzgerald) as she awaits her fate at the hands of leading executioner Albert Pierrepoint (Ross Gurney-Randall) in Holloway Prison on July 13, 1955.
‘It’s an enthralling story,’ says Masterson. ‘These two killers eventually meet at the end of this 80-minute piece of theatre and it’s played out in real time. Pierrepoint and Ellis inhabit the same area in the prison, but don’t meet until the final moment when he kills her.’
It was the idea of getting inside the heads of these two notorious figures that drew him to the story, a story which has proved to be powerful and moving to audiences over the last year. ‘What drives me to make theatre is the drama of the moment. How would I feel? What would I do in that situation?’ says Masterson. ‘With Follow Me, we know what’s going to happen, but we wonder how that final moment will be played out.’
Ellis, 28 and a mother of three, was sentenced to death after being convicted of murdering her lover, David Blakely. She famously sealed her fate at trial when she said, ‘It’s obvious when I shot him I intended to kill him,’ but the sentence was always controversial and hastened the end of capital punishment in this country.
‘There’s no way she would have been executed nowadays,’ says Masterson. ‘At the time, she was made an example of. Today, the case would have been thrown out of court on grounds of diminished responsibility.’