A Judgement In Stone – Review

I’m sure producer Bill Kenwright thought that he’d be on to a winner by putting on stage Ruth Rendell’s acclaimed crime thriller, A Judgement In Stone, but somewhere in the process this tale, considered a literary masterpiece, has been criminally abused.

Whodunit? Was it Simon Brett and Antony Lampard’s dull and creaky adaptation or Roy Marsden’s soporific direction? How did one of the great psychological thrillers of the late 20th century become so boring?

Actor turned director Marsden made his name playing PD James’ super sleuth, Adam Dalgliesh, so he should know his stuff, but Judgement is devoid of all tension and intrigue.

It plods along at a snail’s pace, through endless flashbacks, before delivering a risible and badly (excuse the pun) executed murder scene.

It was so absurd that large parts of the first night audience at Aylesbury Waterside Theatre burst out laughing.

How can anyone make mass murder into a farce – or so uninteresting?

That’s not the response you’d expect when a family of four have just been slaughtered in a frenzy of gunfire. The sound effects were ludicrous. I’ve heard better at am-dram productions.

And, talking of sound, if you’re going to cast TV actors for an ensemble piece then please ensure that they know how to project their voices.

Most of last night’s performers – with the exception of the always beautifully spoken, audible and underrated Ben Nealon – were hard to hear beyond the middle of the stalls.

Andrew Lancel, as Det Supt Vetch, gave a perfect imitation of Marsden’s Dalgleish, right down to the intonation, his stance and behaviour. The intelligent, educated copper had even been sent up from London to take charge of the investigation, just as Dalgleish used to.

Sadly, Vetch proves a pretty inept detective. He and Nealon, as sidekick Det Sgt Challenor, are simply a plot device to provide the exposition linking the flashback scenes. Their discovery of the culprit is more by luck than good – or indeed, any – police work.

Judgement is incredibly wordy with almost no action to liven the tedium. When we do finally have some much needed animation it takes place off stage.

Characters are wheeled in, almost all overacting to quite preposterous levels, with Rendell’s intricate plotting and characterisation smothered in ham with lots of cheese on top.

Singer and now useful character actor, Antony Costa, seemed the only cast member capable of delivering a convincing performance. As bad boy handyman, Rodger Meadows, he has a quick temper, a rough manner and an eye for other people’s valuables. He’s a classic red herring – or is he?

Company stalwart Nealon isn’t stretched by inhabiting the typical country plod role. Solid, dependable, a family man, he walks in Vetch’s shadow doing the donkey work and coming up with a few clues.

Bill Kenwright first launched The Agatha Christie Company in 2006, working to a formula of touring the great writer’s best work with ensemble casts of well known faces from the TV. Most were successful but, increasingly, others creaked with age.

Now he has moved on, reinventing the troupe as The Classic Thriller Theatre Company and broadening its remit to include other crime writers.

But if it is to find success and continue he has to take a fresh look at the work being adapted.

A Judgement In Stone is 40 years old and can’t just be staged in its original form. What was a pacy whodunit in 1977 now comes across as clichéd, time-worn and dull.

There is no imagination or flair. Instead we have formulaic and hackneyed. Bad wigs, cheap sound effects and pedestrian performances. Audiences deserve better.

A Judgement In Stone continues at the Waterside Theatre until Saturday.

  • A Judgement In Stone
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Summary

A once literary masterpiece & pacy whodunit is now a clichéd, plodding, black comedy thanks to unimaginative direction, poor adaptation & ham turns.

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