THE LOVELY BONES
The REP, Birmingham, Wednesday 31st October, 2018
Alice Sebold’s bestselling novel is brought to the stage in this compelling adaptation by Bryony Lavery. Essentially, it’s a ghost story, but one that is told from the ghost’s point of view. Our narrator is Susie Salmon, the 13-year-old victim of rape and murder at the hands of her neighbour Mr Harvey. What keeps young Susie bound to the Earth is her determination to bring the identity of her killer to light, her need to have her body found, and her refusal to accept death before she has really lived
Charlotte Beaumont dominates as the energetic, indomitable Susie in a lively and irresistible portrayal. Susie’s anger, confusion, frustration and especially her humour all shine through. As the story develops, we feel the loss of this innocent, lovely girl. Beaumont is supported by a strong ensemble to tell the story, several of them doubling up roles.
As Susie’s parents, Emily Bevan and Jack Sandle tackle the difficult emotions of losing a child, and the scenes in which Mom, but especially Dad, reminisce and ‘see’ Susie are particularly effective. Ayoola Smart grows up before our eyes as Susie’s little sister, Lindsey. Karan Gill is sweet as Susie’s would-be boyfriend Ray Singh and also very funny as Holiday, the family’s dog. Bhawna Bhawsar contrasts the authoritative role of Franny, Susie’s after-life guide, with the blasé weariness of Ray’s mother, Ruana. Pete Ashmore convinces as Detective Fenerman, and I particularly like Natasha Cottriall’s goth girl Ruth and Susan Bovell’s sardonic grandmother, Lynn. But it’s Keith Dunphy’s creepy Mr Harvey, disturbing in his ordinariness, who is my man of the match.
Lavery’s script is infused with dark humour, alleviating the tension and the grimness of the subject matter. Director Melly Still keeps the staging deceptively simple: the rape-murder is narrated by Susie while off-stage voices provide the soundtrack. As ever, what is suggested is more powerful than what is shown. The set, by Ana Ines Jabares-Pita, is little more than a rectangle drawn on the floor, but the mirrored background affords us dual viewpoints of the action, as though we’re seeing two dimensions: Susie’s ghostly one, and the real world in which life goes on without her. This mirror gives some striking imagery: Ray and Susie rolling around on the floor become figures in flight. Emily Mytton’s eerie puppetry – the dresses of other victims – add to the ghostliness and horror, while Matt Haskins’s lighting and Helen Skiera’s sound frequently assault us, flaring up and blaring out, as though to remind us of the wrongness of Susie’s fate, as well as to jar Susie against the confines of her ghostly presence.
It all adds to up to a highly powerful piece of storytelling, funny, emotional, sickening, terrifying and moving. The show manages to chill, break, and warm your heart. An absolute must-see.