The Lovely Bones is a 2002 debut novel written by Alice Sebold that became a great success, and was subsequently made into a successful film and stage play. It takes viscerally dramatic themes and turns them into something positive and even uplifting, but it takes a hefty suspension of your own disbelief to go along with it.
Both the book and this play insist that you accept a number of concepts that may not come easily to a rational mind, yet they are the building blocks of this cleverly conceived and executed drama.
Susie Salmon (Charlotte Beaumont) is raped and murdered at age 14 by a neighbour, George Harvey (Nicholas Khan). After the murder she becomes the narrator of this tale from her own personal heaven. She desperately seeks to guide her family and friends to gain justice for her demise.
The staging of this play adds its own drama, with a colossal mirror screen behind the stage reflecting both an oversight of the stage action and acting as a ‘Peppers Ghost’ semi-transparent screen through which we see other images and events. If it seems odd, don’t panic, it works rather well, adding many sub-scenes to the ongoing drama.
Susie watches as her family come to terms with her absence, while spitting out ideas and emotions that befit a fourteen year old snatched from ever growing older. Her father Jack (Jack Sandle) seems to get her message of where to look for the killer, while her mother Abigail (Catrin Aaron) seems to be diverted into her own existential crisis. Susie has high hopes that her friends and siblings might solve the mystery, with mixed results. Fanta Barrie is just great as her little sister Lindsey, while Samuel Disrani doubles as both her onetime boyfriend Ray and as Holiday, her pet dog.
The complex staging of this show could be a disaster, but this talented cast pull it off and help to present the audience with an unusually compelling drama. It is impossible not to engage with the several strong and well defined characters that we are given, especially Susie herself who achieves the impossible by portraying a 14 year old girl that we can actually like. A capable cast of thirteen give us at least 22 well defined characters and build a message of hope and positivity in the face of an horrific crime.
This is a thoroughly enjoyable thriller of a show that will keep you on the edge of your seat. While many of the issues raised remain unresolved the outcomes for many of Susie’s family and friends seems rather better than we might expect. It makes a welcome break from the standard ‘whodunit’ thriller while still exploring the impact of the worst and best of human behaviours. Set in the 1970s the soundtrack matches the costume and styles of the time, although most of the family and gender themes will be familiar to American families just as much today. I suspect that today’s teenagers would be a bit wiser to the risks posed by friendly strange neighbours, though. Overall this production is a lot more enjoyable than an initial glance at the publicity might suggest. One not to miss.
© Julian Swainson 2019
The Lovely Bones, Monday 7-Saturday 12 October at 7.30pm, and Wednesday and Saturday matinees at 2.30pm. Tickets £10-£33.50. Discounts for Friends, Over-60s, Under-18s and Groups.
To book, log onto www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk or call the box office on 01603 630000