A Judgement In Stone is a probably Ruth Rendell’s best-known novel. The well-known crime writer addresses class as well as murder in this shocking story.
The scene opens to a murder investigation where the investigators are re-examining statements of each witness. Eunice is in a red coat and looking rather nervous. The play flicks back to each scene as the witness recalls it and suddenly we are in the interview with the Coverdale family and Eunice. The Coverdale family are looking for a new housekeeper and interview Eunice who seems so ‘old fashioned’ and considerate that they immediately take her on. Unbeknown to the family, Eunice has falsified her references and when Jacqueline calls to check her credentials she is unaware it is just a friend of Eunice. Eunice seems rather simple and doesn’t have much of a life outside of her housekeeper job. She works hard and the cleaner starts to begrudge her when she is cut back to one day a week as Eunice is so efficient. The gardener has been in prison and is not welcomed warmly in the village. However, he works hard and Jacqueline really enjoys working with him.
Eunice makes friends with Joan Smith, the postmaster’s wife who is rather a loose cannon and makes Eunice laugh. The Coverdale family do not like Joan and tell Eunice that she is not welcomed in their house. Joan open’s their mail and rebels against them, encouraging Eunice to be wilder.
It was not clear what time period this play was set in and I had to research to tell it was 1977, which now makes more sense with the flicked hair and a tape recorder being a modern gadget. The show was hard to hear the dialogue in places and although the actors are throwing their voices they would benefit from a microphone.
Eunice is played by Sophie Ward and is captivating in the role. She steals every scene with her crooked mouth, bent shoulders and quiet manner. You feel sorry for her and even want to help her. She draws you in. Sophie commands the stage sometimes just by her mannerisms and reactions to others.
Mark Wynter plays the head of the Coverdale household and is warm but authoritive as George Coverdale. His wife, Jacqueline, is played by Rosie Thomson and is very enthusiastically prim and proper. A real lady of the manor who tries to get on with those in lower classes but not to a great success. Jacqueline has a son, Giles Mont played by Joshua Price and he is rather funny in places – especially exploring Buddhism. George too has a child, a daughter called Melinda, so Giles and Melinda are step brother and sister and call each other step. Jennifer Sims plays Melinda and is very affable in the role.
Deborah Grant plays Joan Smith, the friend, and she is absolutely brilliant bringing some much-needed light entertainment to the play and also supporting the odd smile from Eunice. The two police detectives are Detective Superintendent Vetch and Detective Sargent Challoner played by Andrew Lancel and Ben Nealon respectively. They keep reminding us that this is a murder that has already happened, as otherwise you can forget and just watch the family dynamics unfold.
The play is an interesting one to watch but covering a serious matter, it has a gravitas even in its lighter moments and for some may feel it goes on a bit long. However the characters are well defined and acted well.
A Judgement In Stone is playing at Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury until Saturday 3 June and then continues its UK tour.