Alice Sebold’s world-renowned novel ‘The Lovely Bones’ is brought to life on stage for the very first time at Northampton’s Royal and Derngate, adapted by Bryony Lavery and directed by Melly Still.
A story that manages to break and warm the heart in equal measures, the story of Susie Salmon a fourteen-year-old girl who was raped and murdered on her journey home from school. But despite the horrific catalyst of the story, this play is about so much more than murder and bloodshed. It’s about life and death and everything in between. It explores how both Susie (Charlotte Beaumont) and her family deal with her death and the grief that pursues; the play handles human emotions effortlessly.
The action takes place in seventies Pennsylvania as well as the parallel setting of Susie’s ‘Heaven’, however, the barriers between the living and dead become fragmented. Susie finds herself being able to interact with people on earth with her intention being to lead them to her murderer ‘Mr Harvey’ (Keith Dunphy). Communication with the living is often difficult, leaving Susie frustrated and helpless as she is forced to watch what was once her world play out without her. ‘In the walls of my sex there was horror and blood, in the walls of hers [her sister Lindsey] there were windows’. A heart breaking description of how Susie’s world was tarnished so young yet she is forced to watch her younger sister (played by Ayoola Smart) live the life that she never did.
The play is, unbelievably despite the context, beautifully uplifting with clever humour throughout. The portrayal of Susie and her childhood crush ‘Ray Singh’ (Karan Gill Singh) carries a lovely innocence, Susie continuing to watch him from Heaven with the same mushy eyes of any fourteen-year-old girl. Susie having control of her own heaven means she can fill it with what she desires the most. A whole group of dancing dogs? No problem. Played no less by the cast, each wearing a ‘cone of shame’ around their necks. It was the playful moments such as these that added light and personality to the piece. The fitting seventies soundtrack, with the likes of Bowie and Janis Joplin, accompanied these lighter moments perfectly.
The cast as a whole was extremely strong, with the majority having to multirole continuously throughout. Susan Bovell played all her characters with impeccable comedic timing, particularly as ‘Grandma Lynn’ adding hilarity when needed most. Charlotte Beaumont brought an abundance of energy and youth to the role of Susie because despite the character’s trauma she is still a teenager with sass and charm and Beaumont captured this.
Dunphy’s portrayal of the sexual predator Mr Harvey was equally stand out, although in stark comparison to the infectious nature of Susie. His presence was haunting, in a play where raw human emotion is at the forefront he is a character avoid of ‘normal’ emotion yet he can still present as a functioning, member of society. The unsuspecting nature of George Harvey is what makes him the most terrifying and this was portrayed effortlessly by Dunphy.
Ana Ines Jabares-Pita’s design for the set was no less than stunning; I was in awe of the visuals of the performance throughout. The use of mirrors allowed for clever visual effects that meant the audience were often looking at the events play out from different perspectives, very in keeping with the premise of the story. Some of the movement, for example, was staged on the floor to be watched in the overheard reflection of the mirror allowing for some beautiful images. The use of puppetry was also excellent; the cast presenting George Harvey’s other female victim simply using dresses as puppets. The choreography of the puppetry was gorgeous; the dresses were brought to life with tiny but innately human gestures. The thought and attention to detail were extremely evident, all of the visual aspects tied together harmoniously.
For a play about death, it has so much life and it I would highly recommend this beautiful production.
The Lovely Bones runs at the Royal and Derngate until the 22 September 2018 where after it continues its run around the country.
Megan is an actor-musician originally from Northampton. She is a recent graduate of Surrey-based theatre company Peer Productions. In her spare time, she enjoys writing, watching live theatre, going to gigs and befriending dogs.