A Judgement in Stone
Ruth Rendell, adapted for the stage by Simon Brett and Antony Lampard
Bill Kenwight’s Classic Thriller Theatre Company
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford
This company, originally known as The Agatha Christie Theatre Company, has been presenting Christie’s plays with great success for the last ten years. The concept obviously worked well but, the supply having been exhausted, it has turned to other famous murder mystery writers to continue the theme, and rebranded itself with a new name.
This time, it has adapted one of Ruth Rendell’s most celebrated novels and the story begins at the end as, in the dining room of a rather grand country house, two detectives are trying to solve the reason for the massacre of the Coverdale family—their four bodies lie dead in the next room.
They also have a second mystery of a car crashing so violently that the driver went right through the windscreen: could the two events be connected? The housekeeper is carrying on with her cleaning duties regardless as they question her and the action keeps slipping backwards and forwards in time with the everyday activities of the household being played out before coming back to the detectives and their problem.
George Coverdale and his wife Jacqueline are both in their second marriage with two teenage children, his daughter and her son. They seem to be a very pleasant, happy family and no money appears to be involved so what could be the motive for such a horrendous crime?
The first flashback shows us Eunice Parchman (played superbly by Sophie Ward) being interviewed for the job of housekeeper. Ill at ease and awkward, yet aware of her place in life, she says she is a very hard worker and Jacqueline is happy with this and engages her immediately. It is Eunice who insists she ought to provide references and gets her previous employer on the telephone, passing the instrument to Jacqueline, but who was really on the other end of the line?
The detectives may be baffled and they suspect Antony Costa’s Roger, the part-time gardener who is in love with daughter Melinda, but it is not hard for the audience to guess the culprit. The mystery is why.
Ruth Rendell’s psychological mysteries are very gripping and involving but this adaptation rather plods along and gives us no real indication of the previous life of Eunice and her feelings of total inadequacy, her working class background, her illiteracy and her envy and resentment of the affluent people who employ her, although that does come more to the fore in the second act where she is joined by her one and only friend, postmistress Joan (Deborah Grant—rather overplaying the role). The two go a little crazy, playing hopscotch with the family photographs and when they get hold of guns—well, say no more!
Music provides some very pleasant interludes—Don Giovanni playing on cassette gives Mark Wynter’s George a chance to show off his talent as a singer, joined by Jennifer Sims’s Melinda in a very lovely duet.
The production is adequately entertaining, but there is a lot missing and it is not made clear that it is Eunice’s inability to read which catches her out in the end.
Reviewer: Sheila Connor