A Judgement in Stone Review
A large house assembled for the first night of one of Ruth Rendell’s most acclaimed works of detective fiction last night – a dramatisation of A Judgement in Stone.
The opening line in the novel identifies the murderer unambiguously from the off.
However, the play does not do so: the murders have occurred as the play opens, but we are given a number of switches in time as we move back and forth between the investigation by Detective Superintendent Vetch, especially dispatched from London to lead the enquiry, and Detective Sergeant Challoner, the local investigator, and the earlier period of time when Eunice Parchman arrives and works in the home of the Coverdale family.
Eunice is a very simple working class woman who comes to work as the housekeeper. The Coverdale are an upper middle class family who receive her into their household warmly enough but fail to identify her secret struggle for most of the time period of the play.
The play provides the audience with a gentle challenge to identify the murderer and the motive for the crime, but it fails to provide any characters with whom we truly identify.
The story is populated by slightly eccentric characters whose relationships pose a number of questions but never truly engage fully with each other or with us as the audience.
The set is a well-designed interior; the lights provide clear indications of the time shifts, times of day or night and help to set the atmosphere; the acting is of a good professional standard overall though there is some inconsistencies of style or genre.
Andrew Lancel and Ben Nealon play the two detectives in typically clipped tones and brisk style. Mark Wynter and Rosie Thompson are a convincing and largely happy couple as the Coverdale parents.
It is however Sophie Ward’s performance as Eunice that catches our attention as striking the balance between eccentricity and realism most effectively. She nearly manages to engage our sympathy, whereas Deborah Grant as Joan Smith is such a caricature that she is on a different plane to the rest of the characters.
The play provides a shallow commentary on the class system in Britain and the gulf between the classes. However, because the murders have occurred at the start of the evening and the characters fail to meaningfully engage our sympathies, there is no real element of suspense. We do not care enough about the characters to feel on edge or gripped by the events.
In terms of theatre this was a moderate experience but it is a popular genre and a light escapist experience that draws and entertains innocuously. To 06-05-17
A Judgment in Stone visits Wolverhampton
Grand 3-8 July and Coventry Belgrade
and Coventry Belgrade19-23 August