A Judgement in Stone Review

Leeds Grand Theatre – until 29 April 2017.

After 10 years of The Agatha Christie Theatre Company, Bill Kenwright presents The Classic Theatre Company – A Judgement in Stone, an adaptation of a Ruth Rendell thriller story from 1977.  

The curtain rises on Act 1 and Eunice (Sophie Ward) is perched upon the sofa in a grand country house reception room, emanating a mixture of humility, constrained confusion and duty. The doorbell rings and after an initial hesitation, she permits two police detectives entry (Andrew Lancel and Ben Nealon) Determined to solve the murder of the Cloverdale’s and their children, (Mark Wynter, Rosie Thomson, Joshua Price and Jennifer Sims) the pair re-examine the evidence, hunt for further clues and attempt to clarify the timeline of events with a reticent Eunice, Roger Meadows (Antony Costa) the ex con gardener who’s charmed the family and usurped cleaning lady Eva Baalham (Shirley Anne Field).

The ensemble cast are all excellent. Sophie Ward is exceptional as Eunice Parchman, capturing her reserved nature and quiet stillness beautifully. When she says she was sacked for insolence you really find this hard to believe, and so you are drawn into her story.

But the stand out performance is from Deborah Grant, as the local postmistress and religious zealot Joan Smith. Her performance, as she quotes fire and brimstone and promises eternal damnation for the Coverdale family, is extraordinary. At times horrifying and violent, she is also at the heart of one of the funniest scenes in the whole play, as Eunice and Joan turn happy clappy singing their religious songs as the bang on a sweet tin. The joy on Eunice’s face is wonderful and this is really beautiful scene of a shy, simple woman and her one friend.

Red herrings abound, everyone has a possible motive it seems. Secrets and blackmail, unrequited love and worrying hearsay keep the everyone guessing this was a very interesting way to set up the events of both the past and present, causing the detectives to relate facts through their dialogue rather than showing this information to the audience.

The focus of the story being the psychological reasons for the crime, rather than simply who committed it.  This did allow the production to contain the story within one set, which did not change throughout the production. I must say that this set was gorgeous as it depicted the lovely home of the Coverdale family. The different exits and entrances allowed for smooth transitions between the past and present as characters could come and go in a way which did not impact on the delivery of the story

However, as beautiful as this set is, I feel that it is really brought to life through the lighting. Malcolm Rippeth truly worked some magic into this production as the lighting changed not only to depict day and night within the past, but also to depict the house in the past as warm and lively to contrast with the gray lighting depicting the present house as cold after the murder of the Coverdale family. There was also a fantastic use of lighting as Eunice Parchman remained in a spotlight as the entire set went black around her which revealed her secret to the audience. This was also echoed in the final scene of the play which I feel truly set this secret in stone.  

As a study in how the smallest of things can lead to the most horrific of consequences, A Judgement in Stone is a thought provoking piece with excellent performances.