Theatre Review: The Lovely Bones at Exeter Northcott
With just enough heartbreak to make your eyes water, but not so much it breaks you. The Lovely Bones is a stunning interpretation of Alice Sebold’s bestselling 2002 novel.
Susie Salmon is just like any other young girl. She wants to be beautiful, adores her charm bracelet and has a crush on a boy from school. There’s one big difference though – Susie is dead.
The Lovely Bones is the story of fourteen-year-old Susie Salmon, who is lured into a hideaway in a cornfield and subsequently raped and murdered by her neighbour, George Harvey. Susie watches the events after her death unfold from her personal Heaven, coming to terms with her own death as her family and friends fight their own demons to try and move on with their lives.
Because horror on Earth is real and it is every day. It is like a flower or like the sun; it cannot be contained.”
Charlotte Beaumont is magnetic as Susie. Cutesy in her perfect 1970’s garb, she is relatable and kookie, naïve, impulsive and clever. Her desperation to break the story and her utter powerlessness has the audience rooting for her to let her voice be heard. Nicholas Khan’s creepy Mr Harvey is perfectly cringy, lurking in the background, a grey figure of destruction, his presence throughout is sinister and unpleasant.
When Susie’s mother moves out to find her life again, in sweeps grandma, gregarious and boozy and reminiscent of Albee’s Martha in ‘Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ (without the bitterness) she steals the attention of the audience, her presence dominating the stage.
Melly Still’s Direction is sympathetic to the sensitive nature of the theme, Susie’s rape and murder are handled delicately; her clothes are strewn around the stage as she explains what happens to her. The inclusion of Susie meeting Harvey’s other victims is also handled thoughtfully, actors become puppeteers, wearing the dresses of the victims on one arm and presenting themselves to her.
The tense action of the play was broken up with comedic and dreamy musical interludes that I thoroughly enjoyed and found distracting in equal measures, I have to admit though, Susie floating in the mirror to David Bowie’s ‘Space Odyssey’ was a lovely touch.
As much as the production pulled on my heartstrings, the combination of Matt Haskins’ lighting And Ana Inés Jabares-Pita’s design had me utterly entranced. The design pivots on a huge mirror tilted over the stage, reflecting the action on stage from above. Recreating the ethereal element of Sebold’s story: Susie’s own heaven.
These were the lovely bones that had grown around my absence: the connections-sometimes tenuous, sometimes made at great cost, but often magnificent-that happened after I was gone. And I began to see things in a way that let me hold the world without me in it. The events that my death wrought were merely the bones of a body that would become whole at some unpredictable time in the future. The price of what I came to see as this miraculous body had been my life.
The production is captivating and fluid. It flows like a well-choreographed dance, observed by the audience from the front, below, behind as the mirror magically turns into a gauze screen and, of course, through the mirror, from Susie‘s eye-view above. I found myself holding my breath from the point when Susie’s sister searched Mr Harvey’s house to the end of the second half. After the show, I had to hang around to work out how the mirror/gauze worked.