Review: Ruth Rendell's A JUDGEMENT IN STONE at the Aylesbury Waterside, UK Tour

I have a very hit-and-miss relationship with stage show murder mysteries: The Mousetrap I hated, but stage versions of other Agatha Christie stories I have liked. I think there is something very important about the play that needs to work - the level of suspense to keep me entertained all night - and unfortunately, that element is not working in this play.

A Judgement In Stone tells the story of the Coverdale family in their manor house after hiring a new housemaid and the time between that event and the murder of the entire family; the story is told retrospectively in a series of flashback, separated by discussions between the two police detectives and the housemaid Miss Parchman. And that's about it really and is all that you get for the next few hours. I checked on Goodreads before going to the theatre to see what people thought of the original Rendell novel and it's supposedly very compelling, but the play didn't demonstrate that whatsoever. 

Simon Brett and Antony Lampard's stage adaptation of this story is dry, unexciting, and - at times - unintentionally comical (namely when the murder occurs and it's supposed to be horrifying, but a lot of the audience around me started laughing). The story seriously lacks any sort of suspense of mystery throughout - instead, playing like a very unexciting kitchen-sink drama - and the mystery of the whole thing is so painfully obvious that when it is revealed, I was actually shocked that they didn't even bother trying to cover up how obvious it was throughout the play.

Sophie Ward as Eunice Parchman with Andrew Lancel and Ben Nealon in A Judgement in Stone

While the entertainment value of the piece was weak, every other element worked smoothly. The cast - including Sophie Ward as Miss Parchman and Deborah Grant as Joan Smith - were great fun to watch, with my personal favourite being Rosie Thomson as Jacqueline Coverdale, whose performance was warm and funny throughout. A lot of cast members were completely underused though and the parts written so small, I started to wonder how they justified their use in the play: Joshua Price as Giles Mont is used so infrequently in the play that he could've not been in it at all and it would've made no difference to the story whatsoever. It's not a criticism on Price's performance at all, but an example of how weirdly uninviting this production by Brett and Lampard really is.

The technical elements for the piece were fine as well. Julie Godfrey's set didn't look tacky like previous touring sets I've seen in the style, but it was almost identical to every other set I've seen for a murder mystery play, namely The Mousetrap. I completely understand that this was Rendell's decision to set it in a similar style house, but it would've been so much more exciting to have seen something a bit more unique, but it didn't offend overall. The play's time-jumping element hinged entirely on Malcolm Rippeth's lighting design, which also worked well when used to its advantage; he has a good vision for making the place feel like the old manor house it is which worked nicely.

Antony Costa as Roger Meadows and Ben Nealon as Challoner in A Judgement in Stone

Overall, I found Ruth Rendell's A Judgement In Stone decidedly unexciting, predictable and dull with a cast that was wasted on it. I'd like to see the cast form again for another murder mystery - perhaps something like And Then There Were None - to see their talents at play on something else, but until then, you'll find me avoiding Rendell plays for a long while to come.

A Judgement In Stone continues at the Aylesbury Waterside through Saturday June 3rd with tickets available here and tickets for the rest of the tour available here.

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