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The Judgement in Stone at Milton Keynes Theatre

Published by: Alison Smith on 25th Jul 2017 | View all blogs by Alison Smith

Poster AJIS

The stage adaptation by Anthony Lampard and Simon Brett of Ruth Rendell’s 1977 novel, A Judgement in Stone, gives a different twist to the crime. In the novel the first line - ‘Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale family because she couldn’t read’ - gives the reader the ‘who’ and the ‘why’ of the ‘whodunit from the outset.  The interest in the novel lies in the psychology behind the criminal motive. In the Classic Thriller Theatre Company’s play the ‘who’ and ‘why’ are slow to be revealed, which should increase the tension throughout the play – is it the gardener, the cleaner, the boyfriend?

 The dénouement is through a question and answer formula – on February 14th two police officers  Detective Superintendent Vetch (Andrew Lancel) and Sergeant Challoner (Ben Nealon)  begin their interviews of  Eunice Packman (Sophie Ward). It is the day after the shooting of the four Coverdales. As their live-in cleaner for nine months Eunice was close to the family, at least in distance. Through Eunice’s and the other staff’s testimonies we are presented with the dead -  the parents, played by Mark Wynter and Rosie Thomson, and their children, in a series of flashbacks.  The past and the  present  are cleverly marked by lighting changes - a golden glow for the past and a cold blue for the present.

 The setting is very Agatha Christie – a country estate – Lowfield Hall  -with a collection of stock characters – upper class and lower class, a character with previous , a reformed  bible-bashing prostitute. The set is a reflection of upper-middle class life – comfortable but not luxurious. The Coverdale’s tastes are also discerning – opera, overseas travel, shooting and they employ others to look after them – Meadows the gardener, Eva the cleaner and Eunice the housekeeper. It is the Coverdale’s buying power which catches the killer in the end. Throughout the play we are told  about their modern devices, of the large TV in the sitting room, the one in Eunice’s room and the cassette player on which Melinda was recording opera when she was shot.

 The novel is well adapted to the stage to show the passing of time with the characters’ slick exits and entrances. The cast are word perfect. Their gestures and voices bring individuality to their roles. The most amusing and lively is the Post Mistress, Joan Smith (Deborah Grant) who brings, at least during her first appearance, liveliness and amusement. Unfortunately the characters relationships are not fully developed. I was unconvinced by the relationship between Joan and Eunice and unconvinced by the sudden killing -  Eunice had not expressed revenge towards anyone in the family except Melinda; moreover, her reaction to her dismissal by George was too accepting. In fact there was too little weight put on the psychology of the characters – the story was not believable. Perhaps the stage is not the right setting for A Judgement in Stone – television may do it more justice. 

A Judgement in Stone is at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday 29th July

 0844871 7652

 Booking fee applies




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