A Judgement in Stone, Tuesday 4th April, New Theatre, reviewer: Corey Aunger
A Judgement in Stone is a somewhat mixed production that doesn’t really pick up until the second half. Argued to be one of Ruth Rendall’s better works, the novel is adapted for the stage by Simon Brett and Antony Lampard. The Classic Theatre Company, and producer Bill Kenright, are touring twenty-five venues across the country this year. With two months of the tour already passed, the company visited Cardiff’s very own The New Theatre.
The play is a murder mystery, set in the 1970s. Focusing on who shot a wealthy family dead in their living room with a shotgun. The narrative bounces between two different timelines: after the murder with detectives Vetch (Andrew Larcel) and Challoner (Ben Nealon) trying to piece the murder together; and all the scenes building up to the whodunnit moment. Although it’s a ‘thriller’ it’s arguably more a play about class. This is overtly demonstrated through the characterisation and dialogue. However, that being said, this could have been a bit subtler. This would provide a chance for the characters to become more nuanced and the dramatic elements to have more bite to them. While the play focuses on this class tension, it doesn’t offer too much of a socio-political critique. At times the scenes building up the murder can be a bit farcical. Clumsy dialogue and certain proxemics provide moments of humour. Enjoyable as they were, they lessen the dramatic aspects of the narrative.
The acting and characterisation focuses too heavily on this social class theme previously mentioned. Gardener, Rodger Meadows (Antony Costa) is restrained into a working-class stereotype and his character doesn’t really reach his full potential. The duo of George and Jacqueline Coverdale (Mark Wynter and Rosie Thomson respectively) have chemistry in their pompous upper-middle class relationship, with moments of entertainment. Sophie Ward plays illiterate housemaid, Eunice Parchman’s social restriction well enough. It does however become rather monotonous with little growth or transition over the course of the two hours. And her relationship with Joan Smith (Deborah Grant) doesn’t get explored or explained as it ought to have.
The stage is crafted beautifully with fitting décor for a wealthy family in the 1970s. From the outset, it affirms a realism approach to the play. Sound effects are used to demonstrate the Coverdale’s level of high culture, whilst creating the social divide, through radios and cassette players. It adds to the continuity and genuineness of the play, as well as facilitating a quirky but entertaining singing scene. The lighting is cleverly used to signify in what time frame the scene is. With a white wash for after the murder, and a myriad of warm natural colours for before. The transitions are exceptional and happen with ludicrous fluidity. It’s simple, subtle and very effective. The lighting does break away from the naturalistic approach however, with spotlights being used to symbolise a crucial – but somewhat inexplicable – element of the play.
The play offers contrasting elements for its audience: a cast with a mixed set of performances; a thriller/ murder mystery that isn’t really all that compelling; however, wonderful staging, lighting and sound effects. All in all, it’s a tepid affair with potential.
by Corey Aunger