A Judgement in Stone

Theatre Royal Bath

Until Saturday

THE crime thriller is deeply embedded in our English heritage. However for it to succeed on stage it really has to offer more than a collection of caricatures, however professionally presented.

Sophie Ward plays horribly humble housekeeper Miss Parchman, who comes to work for the wealthy Coverdale family and completely fails to fit in with their ways, lifestyle and mindset.

Set in the 1970s, the cast is full of era-stereotypical characters: the wealthy businessman, his adoring wife who combines running an art gallery with charity work, their spoilt children, the local n'eer-do-well ex-con and the salt-of-the-earth villager who cleans their big house. All are played with an extravagance which makes them almost comic figures.

Into this established, rather cosy, world comes a lonely, clearly insecure, person, who fails to fit in with her employers' bluff overtures of friendliness, and, it turns out, is hiding a secret which she feels is so shameful she will go to any lengths to conceal it. Unfortunately, we never get any insight into why her feelings run so deep.

The only person who makes real human contact with her is the village's other social outcast - dangerously, someone who suffers from a raging religious mania which has already led her to take the law into her own hands.

Deborah Grant clearly relishes her portrayal of Joan as a 'tart with a heart', whose increasingly manic outbursts start by being funny-verging-on-the-embarrassing and end by being horrifyingly OTT.

Chris Ellison reprises his perenially popular police inspector, Shirley Anne Field sulks gleefully as the cleaner and Robert Duncan does arrogance with his usual aplomb.

The country house set is well done, although it makes an unlikely police interview suite, surely 70's coppers preferred to drag people off down the station?

A Judgement in Stone, adapted from the Ruth Rendell novel of the same name, is the latest offering from the Classic Thriller Company, which is now branching out from Agatha Christie mysteries.

Sadly, the psychological depths the novel famously explores don't translate to the stage.