In the book version of Ruth Rendell’s A Judgement in Stone, the murderer is revealed in the very first line of page one, but in the stage version, currently appearing at the Assembly Hall Theatre in Tunbridge Wells, the “big reveal” only happens right at the end. This, together with other, very clever, adaptations, is what makes this show so very interesting.
The detectives, who appear towards the end of the book, are included from the very first scene of the play and, through a series of “flashbacks”, we watch as they try to unravel the seemingly motiveless slaughter of the entire Coverdale family.
As the action begins we learn that it is just nine months since Eunice Parchman began her employment at Lowfield Hall, the country house home of the Coverdales. A second marriage for both George Coverdale, managing director of a family business, and Jacqueline Mont also brings together their children, eccentric and studious Giles and university student Melinda, who only returns home between academic terms.
Mark Wynter as George, Rosie Thomson as Jacqueline together with Jennifer Sims and Joshua Price as their grown up children Melinda and Giles work hard together and make a suitably convincing “disfunctional family”. Perhaps the reasons behind all the hidden emotions, secrets that must be kept and tensions between them could have been explored to greater depth, but maybe that would have prevented them from appearing quite so troubled.
The cleverest part of Simon Brett and Antony Lampard’s adaptation of the book sees Detective Superintendent Vetch (Andrew Lancel) and Detective Sergeant Challoner (Ben Nealon) working as “narrators” of the tale. Each time they discuss a new character, or situation, they leave the stage and the scene is acted out in the form of a “flashback”. This enables each character to develop little by little, and offers many opportunities to lead the audience up a pathway that ends with a “red herring”.
The list of possible suspects includes the one-day-a-week cleaner Eva Baalham (Shirley Ann Field), postmistress, local gossip, former prostitute and religious convert, Joan Smith (Deborah Grant) and the gardener, with a violent temper and a history of petty crime, Rodge Meadows (Antony Costa), as well as the housekeeper, Eunice Parchman, superbly acted by Sophie Ward.
Act two is all about revelations. Characters have their outer layers peeled away like onions, and their true natures are revealed. Deceit, dispair, frustration and temper feature very heavily as the story winds it’s way to a grizzly conclusion.
The murders, when they finally happen, are no surprise but knowing who actually pulls the trigger is – a testament to the superb writing of Ruth Rendell, and the very accomplished performance given by Bill Kenwright’s Classic Thriller Theatre Company.
**** Four Stars
A Judgement in Stone also appears at the Hawth, Crawley from Monday 22nd May until Saturday 27th May with nightly performances at 7.30pm and Wednesday & Saturday matinees at 2.30pm. Tickets can be booked online on www.parkwoodtheatres.co.uk/The-Hawth or by calling 01293 553636.