It’s every parent’s worst nightmare. It’s late and your child isn’t home… you call the police and wait. And then you get the news you’ve been dreading…
Alice Seybold’s The Lovely Bones is a book that stays with you. As a child I was always warned of the dangers of strangers, but in this story teenager Susie Salmon is raped and murdered by someone she knows. Not well perhaps, but well enough to trust him just a bit too much. This is what makes it so terrifying. But how would such a powerful message transfer to the stage?
Incredibly, it works well. It’s still harrowing, but there is so much life in Bryony Lavery’s adaptation that the ending almost creates a sense of happiness. The story is gripping; the choice to dispense with the interval ensures that there is no break in the spell and it is only after that the audience can take time to reflect.
The small cast, who take on various roles, contains very strong actors, all of whom have boundless energy. Charlotte Beaumont is excellent as Susie, combining childish ideals, impossible dreams and wisdom to the character. Ayoola Smart does well to show Lindsey blossoming from Susie’s younger sister with teenage angst, into a woman very much moulded by the tragedy and how it affected her family. Keith Dunphy is suitably creepy as Mr Harvey, a strange but (to all intents and purposes) normal man.
Staging is very clever, using mirrors and different levels to represent Heaven and the individual stories happening simultaneously. This also allows minimal use of scenery, with actors drawing aspects out with chalk, showing that although her family are growing up, Susie remains a fourteen year old with childish ideals. Harvey’s other victims are brought to life in puppet form, adding to the horror of their short lives. Mike Ashcroft must also be commended for the excellent movement direction, which is at times horrifying and at others almost ethereal and other worldly.
While the portrayal of the dogs does almost break the spell, the overall effect is both poignant and thought provoking. Both Lavery and director Melly Still have done a fantastic job of transferring such a distressing story into a production that shows the hard truth of families coping in the aftermath of tragedy; at the same time it brings us all a real message of hope and shows us that life carries on.
Reviewed by Michaela Clement-Hayes
Photo: Sheila Burnett
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