Bill Kenwright’s Classic Thriller Theatre Company follows in the footsteps of his successful Agatha Christie Theatre Company, and has much the same remit – bringing classic murder mysteries to the stage. In this sense, this stage adaptation of Ruth Rendell’s A Judgement In Stone is less like your typical play and more like Sunday night TV: a bunch of familiar faces in a story by a big name author, delivered with glossy production values. By this standard, the show is a success, even if it doesn’t entirely convince as a piece of theatre.
Directed by stalwart of the genre Roy Marsden, who has played PD James’ Adam Dagliesh and starred in wartime crime drama Foyle’s War, many of its tropes are familiar. The wealthy family in the big house, the servants with secrets, the gruff London copper sent down from the big smoke to solve the crime (Chris Ellison, another crime show veteran, who will be familiar to most from his lengthy stint on The Bill).
The story opens on the scene of a terrible murder. Housekeeper Eunice (Sophie Ward) has been left in charge of a house where the family have died in a mass shooting, and the police – mild-mannered local DS Challoner (Ben Nealon) and Ellison’s Superintendent Vetch – have come to unravel the mystery.
In a series of flashbacks, we are presented with a parade of suspects and motives. Is it the ex-con gardener (Antony Costa) resentful that the posh daughter Melinda (Pamela Dwyer) snubbed him? Is it Shirley Ann Field’s Eva, who feels her long loyalty to the family is not being rewarded? What about the nosy post-mistress with the murky past (Deborah Grant, who has a lot of fun as the brassy blonde, albeit in a rather over-the-top performance)?
Was patriarch George Coverdale’s (Robert Duncan) business really in some kind of trouble? Or does housekeeper Eunice know more than she is letting on? Although Rendell is more interested in psychological thrillers than piling up the bodies, there is enough mystery to keep the audience intrigued, and the final denouement is as satisfying as these things should be.
A solid cast does well with roles that are, in the main, fairly thin (only Ward’s character has any real depth or nuance – everyone else is just there to service the plot), and Marsden handles the overlapping timeframe deftly. A little more momentum and tension might have served it better – it’s never quite gripping enough to be a truly memorable thriller – but fans of the genre will come away satisfied.
A Judgement In Stone is at the Theatre Royal Brighton until December 2nd. For more details, click here.