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.
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.
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.