DramaReviewSouth East

The Lovely Bones – Theatre Royal, Norwich

Writer: Alice Sebold

Adaptor: Bryony Lavery

Director:  Melly Still

Reviewer: Lu Greer

The Lovely Bones novel tells the story of a teenage girl, Susie Salmon, who is abducted and murdered in brutal fashion, and who also happens to be the narrator of the story. Prioritising seeing justice served over making it to ‘heaven’ after her death Susie sticks around in the in-between to try and help her bereaved family find her killer, and to witness what happens to them once she is gone. This narrative focus worked brilliantly in the award-winning novel, but the clear question as this show travels around theatres is, will it work on a stage?

The answer, simply, is yes. Brought to life by a combination of some excellent performances and some incredible use of stage and lighting (Ana Ines Jabares-Pita and Matt Haskins), the audience are quickly drawn into a reality in which Susie’s ghost is guiding them through the story. Susie herself is brought to after-life by Charlotte Beaumont who captures the ever-changing highs and lows typical of any teenager and gives the character depth by matching moments of irritating teenage complaints with genuinely heartfelt and compelling scenes. Alongside Beaumont is a strong cast creating her family left behind on earth, and while there are times, particularly in the fast-paced first few scenes, that some of the cast do feel somewhat laboured in their delivery, this is soon lost in the stronger performances and impressive effects. Catrin Aaron as Susie’s mother, in particular, brings a level of heart-breaking reality to this view of those left behind, and her development throughout the piece is equally compelling to that of Susie.

What really allows this show, depicting two planes of existence in a strange unreality, to work however is the stage and lighting. A gigantic mirror suspended over the stage means that the audience is given two vantage points for the on-stage action, one in which we see the actors as standard on stage, and one viewed at an angle from above which can at times utterly reshape our understanding of the story we are watching unfold. The use of the cast in multiple roles, including inanimate objects, combined with some sophisticated lighting and ambitious staging all combine to create a slightly off-kilter other-worldly effect, putting the audience in the shoes of Susie, trapped in her viewing square.

A show focused on death and grief, with a dead protagonist to boot, could easily have overreached by becoming too caricature, too ridiculous, or simply too sad. The Lovely Bones sidesteps all of these pitfalls, however; with a strong cast and some outstanding effects, it presents a difficult subject in a way which is at times surprisingly funny, emotive, thought-provoking, and genuinely moving. Chances are this show will make you cry, and it will also have you heading straight back for a second viewing.

Runs until 12 Oct 2019 | Image: Contributed

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Emotive and thought-provoking

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