The Classic Thriller Theatre Company’s latest offering, Ruth Rendell’s ‘A Judgement In Stone’, combines a gorgeous set with some strong, humorous performances. However, it adds little to the thriller genre, and feels tired and somewhat predictable throughout. Nonetheless, the seventies mystery is just about saves itself by being easily watchable, with enough plot stitched together to keep the piece ticking along nicely.
‘Ward’s ability to balance malevolence with vulnerability works well…’
Rendell’s thriller follows Eunice Parchman (Sophie Ward – Holby City) as she is questioned over the bloody murder of her employers, the aristocratic Coverdale family of Lowfield Hall. Ward is solidly convincing as the slow, near-silent, working-class housekeeper, with her character developing agreeably as we learn about her troubled past.
In particular, Ward’s ability to balance malevolence with vulnerability works well: particularly poignant snapshots include a short moment in the spotlight where she reveals that she cannot read, and a final, striking image as the play closes of Miss Parchmon tearing up a slip of paper, utterly broken. The initial comic relief that she provides as she frowns upon the flouncy, rich Coverdale’s ways is stark, although uncomfortable, with this class-divide theme becoming more prominent as the play goes on.
‘…a brash, loafer wearing, gun-touting aristocrat with a booming voice and eccentric taste.’
Sadly, not all performances are as convincing – however, I suspect this may not be the fault of the actors, who, certainly able, have a host of stage and screen credits between them. Strangely juxtaposed characters often fall prey to stereotype, with little opportunity for nuance or hidden depth as part of the story development. Even the detectives (Andrew Lancel and Ben Nealon) are so obviously written that they even make supposedly ironic jokes about it, which fall slightly flat.
For example, Mrs. Coverdale – played with admirable gusto and humour by Rosie Thompson – is a chirpily posh, seemingly dim, charity-working housewife who dances around the stage spouting classist soundbites – meaning we can never get behind her character. Similarly, Lord-Bath-esque Mr. Coverdale, played by famous singer of old Mark Wynter, is a brash, loafer wearing, gun-touting aristocrat with a booming voice and eccentric taste. Again, we find ourselves unable to feel too aggrieved that this family have died, which defeats the whole purpose.
…Mrs. Coverdale – played with admirable gusto and humour by Rosie Thompson…
Joshua Price and Jennifer Sims redeem the family, with Giles’ eccentric, tie-dye wearing, philosophical and bookish side being both endearing and reassuring, and well-acted by Price. We, as an audience, root for him, – which is testament to Price’s acting ability – and want him to cast off his family’s bourgeois ways which the play so obviously engineers us to despise. However, again, the character does not have time to develop properly before his untimely death, with red herrings aplenty throughout never seeming truly convincing.
Jennifer Sims as Melinda Coverdale delivers a touching and believable performance that only improves as the play develops, with the naivety of youth being a theme drawn upon here: her suggested previous relationship with West-Country gardener Roger Meadows (Blue’s Antony Costa) and her dabbling in the dating world of university are, in some ways, Lady Chatterley – but are, in others, rites of passage. We, like Giles, see her as a largely innocent product of her upbringing, but little more than that. In reality, both Giles and Melinda are probably going the same way as their parents, which is slightly disappointing – sometimes, we, as an audience, need more to work with.
Both Sims and Price handle their characters well, with Sims’ mini-breakdown and loss of façade providing a thought-provoking moral dilemma. Even the relationship between the two siblings (who affectionately nickname each other ‘step’) brings a touch of warmth and humour to the production, though too brief – if their relationship had been developed more, we might have been able to understand that Giles and Melinda may not be as dyed-in-the-wool as their terrible parents.
‘A thought-provoking moral dilemma.’
Ultimately, the play frays around the edges when it tries to become too preachy and didactic, in that it manages to try to be simultaneously too clever and overly simplistic. You want to urge the writers to pick a few themes, and develop them more deeply: class divide, religion, gender roles, crime, stereotyping, sibling rivalry, parent/child relationships and justice are all touched upon, but are never properly examined. Even the strange resolution of the play leaves the audience feeling a little empty – we are given too easily a moral, class-driven dilemma so obviously Corbyn-esque that the audience are left feeling preached at.
…You want to urge the writers to pick a few themes, and develop them more deeply: class divide, religion, gender roles, crime, stereotyping, sibling rivalry, parent/child relationships and justice are all touched upon
At times heavy-handed, the climax of the piece should have been thrilling but was, instead, a bit meagre and predictable. Thrilling it is not, but, as a character study – of both the characters and the ensemble, I would hasten to add – ‘A Judgement In Stone’ is a decent production.
‘A Judgement In Stone’ runs until the 18th February at the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh.
Photo URL: www.edtheatres.com/uploads/event/J343510_MKT_DIG_564x270_judegement_AUG16.jpg
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