Based on the 2002 novel by Alice Sebold, Bryony Lavery has attentively adapted the haunting but poignant story of a teenage girl, who after being raped and murdered, watches from her own personal heaven as her family and friends struggle to come to terms with her death.
Upon leaving the theatre, you cannot help but appreciate the intimacy of the Everyman venue. The merge between stage and stalls wonderfully elevates the performance and production. The raw emotion of Susie in Heaven that may seem mystical and imaginative, become an accessible reality as it is portrayed mere feet away from you. This is further supported by Ana Inés Jabres-Pita’s intelligent set design, wherein the use of a tilted mirror above the stage allows for duality in the presentation of narrative. The wavering of the mirror creates a distorted reflection of what happens on the stage, as well as it intermittently turning translucent to allow for two scenes to play out at once in separate realms. This is used in moments such as Mr. Harvey cleaning his weapons behind the mirrored plate and Susie’s family on the stage floor learning of her disappearance becoming a murder investigation.
The complexities of Susie Salmon’s situation is played beautifully by Charlotte Beaumont, who portrays Susie’s desire for the life she has lost, her anger at her killer and the incompetence of the police, whilst also healing her fractured family through her unseen presence. Beaumont embodies both the child-like mentality and burgeoning adolescence of Susie throughout the play; she maintains the unrelenting and overpowering emotions of youth, as her character comes to terms with her death. This is wonderfully contrasted by Ayoola Smart’s role as the gifted sister, Lindsey Salmon. Smart’s gentle but powerful portrayal as a sister managing her grief as she attempts to move on with her life and grow in a manner her sister isn’t capable of, makes Susie’s refusal to accept her death even more harrowing. Despite this, Beaumont and Smart bring humour to the piece through the portrayal of Susie’s avid involvement in her sister’s life, regardless of the fact she is dead.
It is unfortunate that at times the depth of the novel has been somewhat lost by the story’s compression into a 100 minute running time, without interval. Whilst this showcases the stamina of the actors involved, it lessens the impact of the attention Alice Sebold gives to the mundane in the novel. As an adaptation, it is well worth viewing but it is best to keep in mind that previous expectations you may hold from experiencing the story as either a book or film, will not be matched by the stage production. It is a different way of experiencing the story and whilst some of the intricacies are lost, the medium of theatre allows for an immersive experience, emboldened by the sound and lighting designers, Helen Skiera and Matt Haskins.
The adaptation, without a doubt, juggles the tragedy of Susie Salmon’s death and her family’s loss, with the humour of Susie’s perception of her own heaven and the lives of the loved ones she observes. Bryony Lavery’s adaptation of ‘The Lovely Bones’ is quite possibly one of the most exciting novel to stage adaptations of the year.
‘The Lovely Bones’ is on until Saturday 6th October at the Everyman Liverpool. Tickets are available, here.
The Lovely Bones will be touring to:
Northern Stage, Newcastle Tuesday 9 – Saturday 20 October
Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Birmingham Tuesday 30 October – Saturday 10 November
New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich Tuesday 13 – Saturday 17 November