Made In Birmingham Home

When Sam Davies was invited along to the press preview of Ruth Rendall's ‘A Judgement in Stone’ at New Alexandra Theatre he wasn’t sure what to expect….

Prior to last night, a first visit in over twenty years, my judgement of theatre as a form of entertainment was firmly set in stone. Previous experiences had been limited to a school trip or two, subsequent hours spent analysing Shakespearean texts & more recently taking my daughter to see a plagiarised version of the Lion King – complete with screeching females in dubious outfits consisting of feathers, fur and elastic.
Imagine the heights of my delight when asked to attend a press night on behalf of Made in Birmingham TV, before discovering the play in question was no less than a Ruth Rendall mystery the likes of which I was forced to endure on television as a boy under the watchful eye of mother, sister and grandmother. A feeling of despondency grew as it became clear that none other than Antony Costa, formerly of boy band Blue, was one of the star performers, effectively guaranteeing that this was a female only participation that would have no bearing whatsoever on a 30-something single father who avoids any form of artistic creativity which includes the words ‘boy’ or ‘band’ in the same manner as pestilence and plague.
However, accompanied by my sister – a far superior soul to mine and one who clearly took a great deal more pleasure from our Sunday evening family detective viewings – and fuelled by the complimentary wine, I decided to embrace the occasion and allow an inherent cynicism to be surpassed by curiosity and a desire to experience all worldly things at least once (not much left on that list as it happens).
In hindsight that was a life changing decision on my part.
For theatre is… Wonderful. Magical. Exhilarating. In comparison most cinematic experiences pale beyond insignificance. In fact I am left bewildered as to how cinema has become so popular when THIS is available, right on our doorstep. The pace is quicker, the wit sharper, performances stronger and the atmosphere… unrivalled. Perhaps the only film from recent memory that compares on these fronts would be Silver Linings Playbook, itself an antithesis of how far short many films fall of their potential.
From start to finish A Judgement in Stone is a masterclass in all things theatrical. Staged in just one room of the Suffolk country home of the Coverdale family, the narrative bounces from the present day murder investigation to the past where we relive the build up to a gruesome Valentine’s Day deed. Detective Superintendent Vetch (Andre Lancell) and Detective Sergeant Challoner (Be Nealon) use their wry chemistry to examine the potential murderers, including the class conscious and seemingly humourless housekeeper Eunice Parchman (Sophie Ward) whose body language paints the thousand words her voice cannot, a delinquent gardener of dubious character (Antony Costa) whose perforated socks and roving eye bely much, and the show stealing postman’s wife (Deborah Grant) with no less of a chequered past and new found devotion to our Lord and Saviour. Through a series of twists and turns we unravel a complex set of relationships and circumstances which culminated in the cold blooded end of the whole Coverdale family – intrepid father George (Mark Wynter), his ever exuberant wife Jacqui (Rosie Thomson), and their children Melinda (Jennifer Sims) and Giles (Joshua Price).
Yet the appeal of this play for me was so much more than the intrigue of mystery. In classic Rendall fashion (you see mum, I was watching) the clever dialogue and perfectly delivered comedy lines touched on all the themes of the times. The deeply ingrained British class perception, so prevalent at the time of writing in the 1970’s, the confused and misdirected emotions of teenage boys, the aspersions cast over seemingly trivial and easily remedied fallibilities, and the human need for acceptance – whether in the form of forgiveness, love or control. These explorations resonated with me in a way cinema rarely does, I laughed out loud in a way I never have at a DVD, and I was on the edge of my seat as the final scene played out.
This was my first adult trip to the theatre. It will not be my last. THAT is set in stone.

Walsamule – A Cultural Observer
21st February 2017