THEATRE REVIEW: A Judgement in Stone at The New Brighton Floral Pavilion

Ruth Rendell’s A Judgement in Stone

A Judgement in Stone
The New Brighton Floral Pavilion
November 6 – November 11
Author: Ruth Rendell
Director: Roy Marsden
Designer: Julie Godfrey
Producer: The Classic Theatre Company
Cast Includes: Sophie Ward, Chris Ellison, Ben Nealon, Robert Duncan, Rosie Thomson
Shirley Anne Field, Antony Costa, Joshua Price, Pamela Dwyer, Deborah Grant
Running Time: 2 hours 20 mins
RATING: ****

Ah post Halloween and Bonfire nights. The autumnal chill, the rustle of drying leaves underfoot, a stiff breeze through the denuded trees, the gentle sound of the waves lapping against the beach. Could there be a better time for The New Brighton Floral Pavilion to stage a classic Ruth Rendell murder mystery such as A Judgement in Stone?

It’s 1978 and Eunice struggles to fit in at Lowfield Hall. When she joins a wealthy family as their housekeeper the very reason for her awkwardness, long hidden and deeply buried, leads to a terrible tale of murder in cold blood – on Valentine’s Day. Suspects are plentiful; so many in fact DS Vetch is at something of a loss.

What The Classic Thriller Company do so well is not mess around with things. The plot is classically Rendellian. All dark corners of the mind are probed and although the class and gender battles are there beneath the surface, they’re not so in your face as to be in any way a turn off.

Having a half-decent cast helps too and with this ensemble, half-decent is an understatement. Chris Ellison may be a far cry from being the hard-headed Burnside he may well be best known for but, alongside Ben Nealon’s archetypal sidekick, DS Challoner, the pair make a more than believable team, strolling amongst the dark recesses of culpability until finally discovering their perpetrator. Indeed so well do these two work together, a whole new TV series might not be such a bad idea, come to think of it. Well, it worked for George Gently, right?

Sophie Ward’s Eunice is an absolute delight. Just eccentric and quirky enough not to be stereotypical, whereas Rosie Thomson’s Lady of the House, Jaqueline, is everything you might expect from someone so unused to living in the country while remaining the right side of credible at all times. This is especially true when Robert Duncan’s George Coverdale, who’s old-fashioned righteousness is perfectly carried off.

Deborah Grant as Joan Smith, wife of the local postman who has her own secrets to keep, is a bundle of energy; a real firecracker of wit and wonder that will have audiences chuckling, oohing and ouching in equal, delightful measures.

Shirley Anne Field doesn’t have a great deal of stage time as the other hired help, Eve Baalham, but when she is on her style and delivery light up each scene; her love and respect for local bad boy Rodger Meadows (why do all gardner’s names in these things begin with ‘M’?) played by Antony Costa – who himself turns in a fine performance – is more often than not a thing of special beauty.

Joshua Price’s Giles and Pamela Dwyer’s Melinda are polar opposites. Of course they are only step-siblings, and of course they have absolutely zero in common, but the dark desires of Giles’ heart are clear for all to see early on, whereas Melinda’s flighty spoiledness and vulnerability is very well delivered.

Executed exquisitely from the director’s chair by the former P. D James hero Adam Dalglish, Roy Marsden, A Judgement in Stone is that most quintessential of entertainments: a nice harmless murder mystery that is as entertaining as it is gentle on the senses.

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