Theatre review: A Judgement In Stone

Ruth Rendell's fine novel, A Judgement In Stone, begins with a sentence in which she tells us who committed the murder at the heart at the story, and the reason why. The rest of the book is the tense working-out of a tale of class hatred and unspoken pain gradually distilling into a ferocious act of violence that destroys the lives of four people.

The cast of A Judgement In Stone
The cast of A Judgement In Stone

King’s Theatre, Edinburgh ***

It’s not surprising that this troubling story has had an interesting dramatic history since the book’s publication in 1977, including film versions by Ousama Rawi and Claude Chabrol, and a 1996 musical stage version by Neil Bartlett, which won acclaim and awards for Sheila Hancock, in the key role of the almost silent housekeeper, Eunice Parchman.

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It’s therefore slightly surprising to see Bill Kenwright’s Classic Thriller Theatre Company try to transform this unconventional, almost Genet-like novel into something like an Agatha Christie whodunnit, complete with a Victorian drawing-room set, a pair of confused police officers and a fistful of suspects.

The result is to pitch the story in a broadly comic direction, particularly when Shirley Anne Field appears as the wisecracking old daily; and to leave Sophie Ward’s central performance as Eunice Parchman stranded somewhere between the chilling and the ridiculous. It’s all good old-fashioned theatrical fun, though, and it has its powerful moments, particularly when Eunice’s hatred, fear and contempt briefly break the surface.
Final performances today.