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!