King’s Theatre, Edinburgh
The Classic Thriller Theatre Company’s adaptation of A Judgement in Stone is Sophie Ward’s play. Her performance as Eunice Parchman, the illiterate housekeeper, is astounding: she shape-shifts into an awkward, secretive, resentful old woman, and it is her subtlety and nuance that lend the piece its credibility.
Based on Ruth Rendell’s novel, AJIS is a pretty standard murder-mystery. There’s a large house, a rich family, a slew of servants – and some policemen too. But some of its effectiveness as a whodunnit is undermined by the fact that there are four victims, which so reduces the number of potential killers that there’s not much element of surprise.
The set is stunning: the attention to detail is incredible, especially considering that this is a touring production. The wooden panelling, the leaded windows: it’s all truly remarkable. This naturalistic single-room setting works well, helping to create a sense of both the period (the seventies) and the isolation of the domestic realm. And the regular shifts between times are well-handled: the chronology is always clear. It’s a shame, however, that there are so many exits and entrances; scenes are never allowed to overlap; the past never coincides with the present. The constant stage traffic feels disruptive and unnecessary, and isn’t always timed quite right. It feels a little old-fashioned, all this ‘then they go off, and then they come on’ stuff, and there are moments when we’re left with an empty stage, which doesn’t help the pace at all.
Some of the characterisation feels odd: Joan Smith, for example, isn’t credible at all. To be fair, the problem doesn’t seem to lie with Deborah Grant’s gutsy performance (she’s lively and engaging and very funny at times) but with who the character is supposed to be. Maybe the source material is at fault (I haven’t read Rendell’s novel), but it’s hard to believe she and Eunice would ever become friends. There’s no sense conveyed of what connects them.
Overall, this is an entertaining piece, with some strong performances from the cast. But there are a few misfires: it’s too easy to spot the supposed twists, and the whole thing feels a bit, well, staid. That said, the theatre is almost full, and those around us seem to be enjoying what they see. Why not give it a try and make up your own mind?