Theatre and book reviews by Janice Dempsey
“The Lovely Bones” based on the novel by Alice Sebold.
A wonderful life-affirming evening.
Charlotte Beaumont is the teenager from heaven!
It’s not often that I feel that an adaptation of a book I’ve enjoyed has gained a lot in the process of adaptation for the stage, but at the end of the first half of “The Lovely Bones” that’s just what I was telling myself. This is a highly inventive, imaginatively conceived, beautifully staged production.
The story is of the unsolved rape and murder of a fourteen-year-old girl by a serial killer. As in the novel, it’s told by the victim herself, who’s looking for release from the unfinished business that her violent early death has left. She haunts the people from her short life and place where she was killed, trying to make them find her murderer.
But this is no ordinary ghost story. Susie (Charlotte Beaumont) is a feisty young teenager with all the energy, capriciousness, love of fun, music, dancing, and awareness of boys, typical of living girls of fourteen. Her pleasure when things go right is expressed in dancing and radiant smiles; her frustration at being unseen and unheard brings hissy-fits and glowering pouts, when things go wrong; she’s as impulsive, brave and strong-willed in death as in life. Charlotte Beaumont is perfectly cast: utterly charming, she moves the story on with joy, humour and verve (there’s a lot of laughter in this play.)
In the second half, when the focus of the play moves to relationships within Susie’s grieving family and among her old friends, now maturing adults, the pace slows somewhat.
Fanta Barrie as Lindsey, Susie’s gifted younger sister, gives the role moving depth as, still grieving, she develops and matures. Their father, Jack (Jack Sandle) is obsessed by the need to find the killer. In grief her mother Abigail (Catrin Aaron) is desperate to keep the rest of her family together by returning to “normal” life but Jack’s obsession drives her to leave him.
Meanwhile, the psychopath, Harvey (Nicholas Khan), remains totally unforgivable – no extenuating circumstances are suggested for his appalling crimes. He is a weak, unhappy man who excites no sympathy: we’re as relieved as Susie when his fate catches up with him.
This play is comparable with “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time” for originality. The staging is remarkable. Using a huge reflective surface extended above and semi-transparent layers behind it, space becomes multi-dimensional. Susie is “trapped” in heaven with a caring “transitioning officer” guiding her but she’s still with her family and friends on earth, though she can only watch as they grieve and develop their relationships without her. This aspect of the story could become mawkish, but it’s saved from over-sentimentality by the vigour of the writing and acting, as well as by the wonderful evocation of a meld of heaven and earth and different kinds of time enacted simultaneously: Susie’s “transition guide” points out that “on earth their time is so short.” (I paraphrase.)
This entertaining play lightly carries the life-affirming message that lives must be lived, that grief must be borne and that we must play the cards we’re dealt, however hard or unfair they seem. For Susie, her spirit moves on when she learns and understands the life and people she lost on earth.
I thoroughly recommend “The Lovely Bones”, both this play and the book.