A Judgement in Stone

Feb 14 2017 | By More

★★★☆☆    Not such a class act

King’s Theatre: Mon 13 – Sat 18 Feb 2017
Review by Martin Gray

The Ruth Rendell murder tale A Judgement in Stone, at the King’s until Saturday, promises much but shoots itself in the foot with unbelievable characters and relationships.

There’s been a murder. Well, four murders actually. The Coverdale family, a blended bunch consisting of mum Jacquie, dad George and ‘steps’ Giles and Melinda, have been blasted to oblivion…

Andrew Lancel, Sophie Ward and Ben Nealon. Photo Mark Yeoman

A few weeks on, Detectives Vetch and Challoner are questioning the still-resident housekeeper, Eunice, about her relationships with her employers. A woman they’d like to quiz, postmistress Joan, is in a coma in hospital following an unexplained road accident.

As the flashbacks begin, it’s looking good for a decent little mystery. After all, this is a Ruth Rendell tale starring some top talent – Andrew Lancel, Shirley Anne Field, Sophie Ward and more. The adaptation is by Simon Brett, no mean crime writer himself, and Agatha Christie adaptor Antony Lampard, while producer Bill Kenwright has overseen any number of stage thrillers.

Sadly, the big mystery is just why this show fails to sizzle. Rendell intended the story not so much as a whodunit as a ‘how did they come to do it’, tying her killer’s acts to such themes as class and shame – she tells you who the murderer is, and why they did it, in the book’s very first sentence.

As this production isn’t quite so open, I won’t say who the murderer is… guessing their secret and how that led to slaughter is one possible road to pleasure. When you realise what the ‘shameful’ secret is, mind, you may have a problem believing this could lead anyone but a lunatic to end lives deliberately.

Period piece

A Judgement in Stone is a period piece, set in the Seventies the programme tells us – an apparent reference to cold calling in the script rather muddies those waters – but as presented by director Roy Marsden it may as well be the Thirties.

Antony Costa and Ben Nealon. Photo Mark Yeoman

The Coverdales live in a country house world of jolly hockey sticks and charity work. For the denouement to succeed we have to believe the killer could honestly view them as do-gooding hypocrites without having some kind of persecution complex. We don’t. The family seems thoroughly nice, with the one incident in which a member does something out-of-order contained within a flashback… did it really happen that way?

There’s good work from Sophie Ward, unrecognisable as Eunice, with meek delivery and well-observed gait. Ben Nealon gives Det. Sgt. Challoner an understated charisma that serves his character well. Shirley Anne Field’s jumped-up cameo as a cleaner is seriously sinister.

Andrew Lancel, though, is underpowered as Det Supt. Vetch, it’s impossible to believe the Home Office sent him to give the locals a hand – the character has no spark. And his final lines, which should illuminate and underline the drama, are thrown away. Deborah Grant, meanwhile, is having a whale of a time as prostitute turned Bible-bashing postie Joan, but there’s no way this woman and the mouse that is Eunice would become friends. I could barely believe Joan might actually exist.

psychological gold mine

Apparently the novel really gets inside the mind of the killer, and it could be that the script isn’t adequately translating the characters to the stage. Certainly I don’t recognise the scenario presented in the programme notes: ‘By highlighting the marked differences between the Coverdales, in their entitled world of privilege, and the likes of Joan Smith and Eunice Parchman, clawing their way through life with no social advantages to fall back on, Rendell tapped into a psychological gold mine.’ What I saw was a well-off family who were all about giving back and offering second chances, and two pretty awful women.

The cast of A Judgement in Stone. Sophie Ward, Deborah Grant, Shirley Anne Field and Antony Costa (standing left) with Jennifer Sims, Mark Wynter, Rosie Thomson, and Joshua Price (seated) and Andrew Lancel and Ben Nealon (standing behind). Photo Mark Yeoman

The constant flashing back and forth is seriously inelegant, with characters passing one another as they get their latest turn on the drawing room set. You expect them to nod at one another, mutter ‘You’re up now, mate’. With all the wandering on and off-stage, and swapping back and forth of overcoats, it’s like a particularly dull French farce. And one big question that hangs over the show is never cleared up.

It’s an undemanding time passer, but as a spotlight on shame and indictment of the class system, A Judgement in Stone misses the target.

Running time: 2 hours and 20 minutes (including one interval)
The King’s, 2 Leven Street EH3 9LQ.
Monday 13 – Saturday 18 February 2017
Evenings: 7.30pm; Matinees: Weds, Sat: 2.30pm.
Tickets and details: http://www.edtheatres.com/judgementinstone

A Judgement In Stone on tour:
Mon 13– Saturday 18 Feb Edinburgh
King’s Theatre
0131 529 6000 Book online
Mon 20 – Sat 25 Feb Birmingham
New Alexandra Theatre
0844 871 3011 Book online
Mon 27 Feb – Sat 4 March Eastbourne
Devonshire Park
01323 412 000 Book online
Mon 6 – Sat 11 March Truro
Hall For Cornwall
01872 262466 Book online
Mon 13 – Sat 18 March Buxton
Opera House
01298 72190 Book online
Mon 27 Mar – Sat 1 April Northampton
Theatre Royal
01604 624811 Book online
Tue 4 – Sat 8 April Cardiff
New Theatre
029 2087 8889 Book online
Mon 10 – Sat 15 April Weston Super Mare
The Playhouse
01934 645544 Book online
Tue 18 – Sat 22 April Bromley
Churchill Theatre
020 3285 6000 Book online
Mon 24 – Sat 29 April Leeds
Grand Theatre
0844 848 2700 Book online
Tue 2 – Sat 6 May Malvern
Festival Theatre
01684 892 277 Book online
Mon 8 – Sat 13 May Cheltenham
Everyman Theatre
01242 572573 Book online
Mon 15 – Sat 20 May Tunbridge Wells
Assembly Hall
01892 530613 Book online
Mon 22 – Sat 27 May Crawley
The Hawth Theatre
01293 553636 Book online
Tue 30 May – Sat 3 June Aylesbury
Waterside Theatre
0844 871 7627 Book online
Mon 5 – Sat 10 June Southend
Palace Theatre
01702 351135 Book online
Mon 12 – Sat 17 June Derby
Derby Theatre
01332 59 39 39 Book online
Mon 19 – Sat 24 June Glasgow
Theatre Royal
0844 871 7647 Book online
Mon 26 June – Sat 1 July Woking
New Victoria Theatre
0844 871 7645 Book online
Mon 3 – Sat 8 July Wolverhampton
Grand Theatre
01902 429 212 Book online
Tue 11 – Sat 15 July Harrogate
Harrogate Theatre
01423 502116 Book online
Mon 17 – Sat 22 July Stoke
Regent Theatre
0844 871 7649 Book online
Mon 24 – Sat 29 July Milton Keynes
Milton Keynes Theatre
0844 871 7652 Book online
Mon 31 July – Sat 5 Aug Newcastle
Theatre Royal
08448 11 21 21 Book online
Tues 19 – Sat 23 Sept Coventry
Belgrade Theatre
024 7655 3055 Book online
Mon 25 – Sat 30 Sept Dartford
Orchard Theatre
01322 220000 Book online
Mon 13 – Sat 18 Nov Manchester
Opera House
0844 871 3018 Book online
Mon 20 – Sat 25 Nov Bath
Theatre Royal
01225 448844 Book online
Mon 27 Nov – Sat 2 Dec Brighton
Theatre Royal
0844 871 7650 Book online



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  1. Graham says:

    So disappointed so very disappointed not beyond the realms of possibility does this production work,needs pulling before opening in Buxton..Truro weeps.

  2. Judy Barnett says:

    Just saw the play last night at The Regent in Hanley. I love Ruth Rendell stories and this was a birthday treat from my husband. When the play ended I was left feeling, ‘was that it then?’ I’m not knocking the cast, they were great. The problem is, I’ve read the story, and as usual the book is much better. I realise its very difficult to create a back story when you have a fixed set but the back story of Eunice is essential to understanding the character.

  3. Wendy Whittaker-Large says:

    I ached for the pain of the actors who by the look of their faces during the applause, knew the production was dire. The audience’s insipid reaction told them all they needed to know. The script was dull and predictable, the acting (I blame the director) hammy and farcical. In fact this would make a much better farce than a serious whodunnit. Ruth Rendell – back to the drawing board for this one! AVOID!