Review: Judgement In Stone

Andrew Lancel and Ben Nealon in A Judgement in Stone  Pic: Mark Yeoman
Andrew Lancel and Ben Nealon in A Judgement in Stone Pic: Mark Yeoman
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OLD telly stars never die, they just tour whodunnits. The question, after viewing Judgement In Stone, is why?

King’s Theatre Leven Street

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Building on the success of The Agatha Christie Company, who have toured numerous murder mysteries to the Capital in the past, the all-star cast of the Classic Thriller Company turn their attention to another crime writer, Ruth Rendell.

In its novel form, Judgement In Stone is regarded as one of Rendell’s greatest works... loved for its rendering of character, plot and motive. It’s been called ‘Rendell at her thrilling best.’

Sadly, theatre at its ‘thrilling best’ this adaptation is not.

The curtain rises on Act 1 at a snail’s pace and the action unfolds at a similarly plodding gait, and talking of plod, The Bill’s Andrew Lancel and Soldier Soldier’s Ben Nealon as Detective Superintendent Vetch and DS Challoner set the scene nicely.

There’s been a Valentine’s Day massacre, four member of the wealthy Coverdale family have been shot, Vetch and Challoner are investigating, interviewing Sophie Ward’s educationally challenged housekeeper Eunice Parchman.

As Eunice recalls events leading up to the fateful night, the tale is revealed in flashback - a simple dimming of lights morphing the action from present to past and back again.

We meet the Coverdales, a family with secrets and a housekeeper who might be more at home with The Addams family.

Rosie Thomson, whose TV credits include Judge John Deed and A Touch of Frost, is suitably ebullient as Jacqueline, the mother of the clan, a woman with an ever optimistic out-look on life.

Warm and endearing she strikes an easy chemistry with 60’s pop idol Mark Wynter as her second husband George.

Wynter, best known for the hit Venus In Blue Jeans, even gets a chance to sing. They’re a likeable and well matched couple.

As their step-siblings Giles and Melinda, Joshua Price and Jennifer Sims too bond well. Price’s troubled odd-ball son a perfect foil for Sims bubbly, forward daughter.

As the questioning of Eunice continues, Ward is seldom off stage and brings to life her character with a distracted awkward and angular physicality that fascinates, other characters are introduced. All are cliches found in any country manor house murder.

There’s the bad boy gardener Meadows, played by Antony Costa of Blue fame with a lot of bluff and bluster; the cranky ageing cleaner, a bizarre turn from Hollywood veteran Shirley Anne Field; and the brassy, evangelist post mistress Joan Smith, played with pantomimic relish by Deborah Grant.

But whodunnit? And why? Red herrings abound, everyone has a possible motive it seems. Secrets and blackmail, unrequited love and worrying hearsay keep the coppers guessing but when the dénouement arrives it’s an over the top anti-climax.

That Detective Superintendant Vetch’s last earnestly delivered observation on the tragedy reduced the audience to laughter perhaps says all you need to know.

Runs ends Saturday