“A Judgement In Stone” by Ruth Rendell
Eunice is taken on as a housekeeper by the Coverdale family. She has kept her illiteracy a secret and is obsessed by continuing to keep it so. Unknown to her new employers, she has already murdered the father for whom she had been caring, and has falsified her references. She is so desperate to hide her inability to read and it's that chink in her armour that brings her downfall, and that too of the Coverdales..
Producer Bill Kenright has amassed a star studded cast for this Ruth Rendell classic mystery of murder in cold blood which resides in Derby Theatre all this week, until Saturday 24 June.This is a thriller where the murder is no mystery, but still retains the shock value.
No stranger to Derby Theatre, Andrew Lancel returns to play Detective Superintendent Vetch. Cool, calm and collected, you have every confidence that he will get his man... or woman.
Ben Nealon is Vetch's partner in fighting crime; a little more, but not that much more animated than Vetch, but a nice contrast.
Sophie Ward plays Eunice Parchman, and for me the star of the piece. She plays a character much older than herself and makes the role completely believable. From the start you almost pitied her, but in Act Two you could see that darker, more influenced side develop and appear. Brilliant characterisation.
Mark Wynter, well known for his hits like “Venus In Blue Jeans” in the 1960’s is well versed with murder mysteries and thrillers, especially those of Agatha Christe. Mark plays George Coverdale, the Mozart loving head of the family. We get to see why Bill Kenright uses Mark so much in his theatre plays as his naturalness shines through. We even get to hear some vocals from the man. I also noted that his stage timing is spot on with the slap he delivers to Joan Smith; quite a jaw dropping slap!
Deborah Grant plays the receiver of the slap, the busybody post mistress who likes to know what is going on by reading the village's mail; one reason why George Coverdale hates to have her in his house. She's also insanely religious, spouting her opinions and proud of her un-Godly past. Another excellent character piece.
Rosie Thomson plays George's wife, Jacqueline Coverdale. A bright and upbeat character who loves the attention and flirting of the family handyman/gardener, which obviously keeps her looking and feeling young.
Joshua Price plays the teenage step son, Giles Mont. Forever stuck in his books who shows a slightly obsessed side of his character when he discovers religion of a darker edge.
The Coverdale daughter, Melinda, is played by Jennifer Sims. This character brings about the downfall of Eunice after she discovers the Parchman secret. Taking after her father George for her love of music and forever carries around the Christmas present of a cassette player everywhere she goes, and is pivotal in discovering what really happened on that fateful Valentine's Day. A birthday that George would live to regret!
The iconic Shirley-Anne Field plays Eva Baalham, the cleaner who becomes second fiddle to Eunice.It's a pleasure to experience such a legend performing locally in this tour, plus she gets to deliver some very dry lines.
Anthony Costa, who since leaving the band Blue has carved a decent career in stage work and again, no stranger to the Nottingham and Derby theatres. Ant plays the bad lad turned good lad gardener/handyman at the house. He has an eye for the ladies, as we find out when questioned about his alibi at the time of the murders.
I love the set and I want the book cases (my wife wants the grey Chesterfield). The set is designed by Julie Godfrey, and in fact, I wouldn't mind that set in my house.
Lighting by Malcolm Rippeth and there are very subtle light changes here that some may not notice but, as the play flicks back and forth back in time and to the present, the lighting also changes. This makes it easy to distinguish the time zones with a lovely fluidity.
An unobtrusive soundscape also creates an air of reality and puts you there in the story, just like them proverbial fly on the wall.
I must also mention the rapidity of the costume changes. Even though it may just be the swapping of a coat, as in Eunice, or the change of a jumper or tie with George. These changes moved the time on naturally, and there were several of these changes in quite quick succession. Little things like this make a good play a wonderful play and something that Director, Roy Marsden obviously has had an eye for in his long and successful career.
There are some shocks in here and the audience were audibly shocked in some parts. The wonderful writing of Ruth Rendell is as sharp as ever after all this time, and when you have a great cast, a sharp Director and talented technical crew, you can't fail to present a cracking night of thrills.
This thrilling production is being performed at Derby Theatre until Saturday 24 June 2017, so don’t miss out!