The Lovely Bones

Reviewer's rating

I have to report that the stage production of The Lovely Bones (from the hugely successful novel by Alice Sebold, adapted by Bryony Lavery) is one of the most original, inventive and imaginative stage productions I have ever experienced. Its imaginative use of all aspects of stagecraft is downright breath-taking. I have never been entirely convinced by the tale itself so I was reluctant about seeing the play. I find the subject matter too painful, for a start. But this production makes such amazing use of the possibilities of live theatre, that I urge anyone to see it, if for that reason alone. The creative team and the cast have worked out something seamless, utterly gripping and completely thought- provoking. Also, to be fair, the directing is so strong and the mis-en-scene so original (with an astonishingly adaptable and fascinating set by Ana ines Jabares-Pita that is dominated by a flexible mirror that is also a kind of suspended scrim) that I was pretty much pulled into the tale by the approach. A fantasy, a ghost story and a kind of Hitchcock psychological thriller all rolled up into one, the evening was utterly memorable and I will be thinking about it for a long time to come.

The story telling is very clear from the start, with the murder of the main character, Susie Salmon.. We know who dunnit; we saw him do it; we are compelled, among other things, to see how he gets away with it. Susie, observing how life goes on after her brutal rape and murder, has no way of telling anyone and she cannot let go, so she is both in her own heaven but also watching her family on earth and how their lives develop. The play deals, as did the novel, with how one moves on from such tragedy and grief; with the natural processes of aging and growing up; and with the question of justice and how one solves a murder.

The acting of Charlotte Beaumont as Susie is the pivotal centrepiece of the production. She is completely appealing, she is captivating and she is on stage pretty much the whole time. Her performance is a tour de force, her stamina unquestionable. But I fear it is invidious to pick anyone out from the extremely coherent cast; everyone’s contribution is so completely integrated into the whole and convincing. Some people play several parts. I was struck by Samuel Gosrani not just as Ray but as the dog, Holiday. Catrin Aaron as Abigail, Jack Sandle as Jack, Lynda Rooke in her roles, and Nicholas Khan as Harvey are all memorable. The intelligence and pacing of the production is superb. Lighting, movement, design, sound, music, and even puppetry all contribute to a very completely theatrical experience. Dave Price is the composer and the lighting design by Matt Haskins and the use of projections, a huge mirror and the creation of an almost surreal stage environment is arresting and haunting throughout the evening. I have my quibbles about some of the fantasy and especially about the very ending, which seemed to me to be a bit abrupt and not entirely clear or necessary; but that could just be me. What I do know is that this is a production that will stay in your mind for a long time and that it serves the tale and its philosophy beautifully. I am now going to re-read the book and seek out the film. I recommend this touring stage version highly.