Tag Archives: Andrew Lancel

Murder with Class

A JUDGMENT IN STONE

New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Monday 20th February, 2017

 

Formerly the Agatha Christie Theatre Company, the Classic Thriller Theatre Company hopes to emulate its earlier success by expanding the range of writers it draws upon, and so we have this adaptation of a Ruth Rendell novel, delivered in the company’s solid and classy style.

I don’t know if it exists in the book, never having read it, but this version, by Simon Brett and Anthony Lampard, uses the device of alternating scenes of the police investigation with flashbacks leading up to the brutal murder of the Coverdale family.  Past and present collide and keep us hooked on the developing mystery.

Sophie Ward is excellent as the dowdy housekeeper, Eunice Parchman, hiding what to her is a terrible secret.  As the detectives, Vetch and Challoner, Andrew Lancel and Ben Nealon exude an air of easy professionalism.  Mark Wynter amuses as the smug patriarch George Coverdale, while Rosie Thomson as his wife is the life and soul of the household.  Joshua Price mills around as the bookish, oddball son, and Jennifer Sims brings emotional depth to her role of Melinda, the daughter home from university.  We know the family is doomed – it’s a matter of when and by whom that keeps us intrigued.  They’re all so terribly middle-class, calling each other ‘darling’ all the time, that we perhaps don’t much care about them as individuals.  Rather our sympathy lies elsewhere – but that would be telling.

The usually glamorous Shirley Anne Field dresses down as cleaner Mrs Baalham, and Deborah Grant muttons up as outlandish postmistress and religious crank, Joan Smith.  Revelation of the night (apart from the whodunit) is former Blue singer Antony Costa delivering a nice line in character acting as the reformed criminal and gardener, Rodger Meadows.

Julie Godfrey’s set epitomises the country house mystery, but it also communicates a message about the permanence of the class system – this is a story with class, in more ways than one.  Director Roy Marsden keeps the action flowing seamlessly between the two timelines, using Malcolm Rippeth’s lighting design to mark when we are, as well as to highlight certain dramatic moments.

It all makes up for a solid and reliable piece of entertainment, excellently presented.  We may guess who is responsible, but when the murder scene finally arrives it is no less shocking.  Pace and tone are handled expertly to deliver the goods.

The Agatha Christie Theatre Company is dead; long live the Classic Thriller Theatre Company!

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Sophie Ward (Photo: Mark Yeoman)

 

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Turning the Tables

TWELVE ANGRY MEN

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Monday 18th May, 2015

Reginald Rose’s superlative play continues to do the rounds and I am delighted to have the chance to see the production again with a new cast. So intriguing and engaging is the writing that it doesn’t matter a jot if you’ve seen it before and know the outcome – any decent production of The Merchant of Venice can still get a lot of mileage out of its famous trial scene, and this production is no different. And, of course, if you haven’t seen it, you’re in for a treat and a half.

A jury is sequestered in a room on the hottest day of the year to deliberate their verdict in what seems like a straightforward murder case. A unanimous verdict either way is required. Eleven vote guilty but one lone voice dissents. This is Juror 8 played with calm assertiveness by Jason Merrells. Merrells is the morals of the piece, chipping away at the presumptions and prejudices of his fellow jurors, gradually winning them over to his way of thinking.   It is no accident that designer Michael Pavelka puts him in a white suit. It’s subtle symbolism in a muted colour palette and a thoroughly naturalistic production.

The set is evocative of place and weather conditions. The master stroke is the large table around which the jurors all gather from time to time. It’s on a revolve, moving imperceptibly so that our viewpoint is forever changing. The table, as well as the tables, is turned!

Director Christopher Haydon choreographs the actors so that the stage is never static, while maintaining a naturalistic air to their behaviours. Of those jurors – all of whom do a grand job – those that stand out for me are Denis Lill as an irascible racist loudmouth, Gareth David-Lloyd as a glib advertising executive, Alexander Forsyth as the youngest of the bunch, and Paul Beech as the eldest. Robert Duncan is a counterpoint to Merrells, but it is Andrew Lancel as Juror 3 who provides the emotional punch of the evening as the hothead with his own personal agenda.

An electrifying couple of hours that has you gripped from start to finish, it’s also amusing and thought-provoking, reminding us in these dark days of hanging fan Michael Gove as Minister for Justice, that once you carry out a death sentence, there is no going back.

 

 

Jason Merrells  as Juror #8 (Picture: Steve O'Connell)

Jason Merrells as Juror #8 (Picture: Steve O’Connell)