Review: A Judgement in Stone
For children of the 80s, the Ruth Rendell Mysteries were all over the telly box and Chief Inspector Wexford’s investigations were a must-watch in our household. Now the theatrical thriller A Judgement in Stone is coming to the Theatre Royal Bath. Chris Ellison from The Bill as Det Super Vetch, Bergerac’s Deborah Grant, old school Hollywood icon Shirley-Ann Field, film and TV star Sophie Ward, Robert Duncan from Drop the Dead Donkey… and Antony Costa from the boy band Blue are all in the cast. Rachel over at Muddy Berks saw the classic whodunnit when it was on in Windsor earlier in the year.
If you don’t know the story, A Judgement in Stone is set in the 70s. A time when the class war was raging. The ambitious middle classes clambering to the top while a simmering resentment amongst the working classes was reaching boiling point. It was in light of these social tensions and class obsessions that lead Rendell to write this novel.
Sophie Ward plays the socially awkward, Eunice Parchman, who takes a housekeeping job at Lowfield Hall, the Suffolk country home of the Coverdale family. The family of four were brutally murdered on Valentine’s Day and it is the job of Detective Superintendent Vetch sent up from London to help his rural sidekick Detective Sergeant Challoner (Ben Nealon) to review the evidence and determine who has a motive for murder.
The play switches back and forth between real time and the months leading up to the murder of Coverdales and their two children by simply but effectively using atmospheric lighting. A warm yellow glow represents scenes when the family are alive and a harsh white light during the murder investigation. At times this felt a bit rushed, leaving cast members on stage when time shifted, but the occasional hiccup is to be expected on the first night.
Julie Godfrey’s stage design for Lowfield Hall is stunning: featuring a wood panelled room, ornate leaded windows – catching a glimpse of the garden beyond; plus the obligatory grand chandelier, Chesterfield sofa and antiques. It is so realistic I wanted to have a nosy around the rest of this stately beauty.
It was a confident performance from an experienced cast, but there were a few standouts for me. Sophie Ward, as Eunice, is nails the withdrawn but dark illiterate housekeeper. The opposite of Eunice’s only friend, Joan Smith, the postmistress. Joan played by Deborah Grant, bursts onto stage wearing a brassy blonde wig, leopard print miniskirt and knee-high PVC boots. As an ex-prostitute who’s found God, Grant is hysterically funny – singing, dancing, tormenting and manically spewing out biblical passages, full of fire and brimstone. She absolutely stole the show (and has legs to die for)! Rosie Thomson as the socially ambitious, smug, Jacqueline Coverdale, was superb, enduring more wardrobe changes than Anne Hathaway at the Oscars.
I was most intrigued by Antony Costa. Could he make the tricky transition from pop star and musical theatre to something more serious? Just about. His role as wayward gardener Rodger Meadows is not the most challenging and, despite his nerves appearing to get the better of him in the first act, he came to life in the second.
Verdict: It’s a show that keeps you gripped from beginning to end. A must see, if only to witness Deborah Grant’s comic genius. Don’t forget to let me know what you think too.
A Judgement in Stone is on from Mon 20–Sat 25 Nov at the Theatre Royal Bath, Sawclose, Bath BA1 1ET. Tel 01225 448844 . theatreroyal.org.uk