Wednesday, 16 October 2019

THEATRE REVIEW: The Lovely Bones - The Lowry Theatre, Salford.


The stage play of Alice Seabold’s ethereal, coming of age, best selling novel is boldly brought to The Lowry stage this week in a lavish and stunningly creative adaption by Bryony Lavery and lovingly directed by Melly Still.

A favourite book of my, then teenage daughter, I read it and couldn’t stop thinking about it and then accompanied her to the Oscar-winning movie in 2009 which left me distraught! The themes would destroy even the bravest of readers and audiences. It affects parents with the prospect of having their own child murdered and the teenage readers' empathy lies with the main character’s life, future and love being stolen from her.

Seabold herself wrote the novel as a catharsis, after being raped, and it explores the horrifying theme of a child’s rape and murder by a paedophile and the devastation and impact upon the lives of all who knew her and loved her.

How is it done? Through a beautiful, heavenly viewpoint of the dead, teenage protagonist. Susie Salmon narrates the earthly world below her heavenly world and tries to avenge her murderer by creating ripples in the middle between life and death. Her vibrations are felt and sensed by her family in the way that we sense our own love ones still being there after they have passed through memories and connecting objects.

Susie (Charlotte Beaumont) gives a commanding, enigmatic and compelling performance which shows the murderered 14 year old’s ethereal, trapped, state of existence. She exuded the anger, confusion and angst that you couldn’t even begin to articulate at how one would feel if this happened to you whilst maintaining the earthly demands of every petulant teenager we know. Cut down in her youth; her body never found; only having had one teenage kiss; being a gifted student ... so bright with dreams of being a wildlife photographer and oh so loved by her family. I felt devastated for her! Her murderer, the sinister Mr Harvey played by Nicholas Khan first lures and then kills her in a purpose-built den / lair under a cornfield which he caves in afterwards to cover the crime scene. The balletic and highly choreographed rape and murder scene was beautiful and yet sickeningly horrific. Susie’s narration of her demise along with the surreal scene’s sound and lighting penetrated deeply as everyday life at home continued bringing a huge lump to my throat.

The entire company were flawless. Her father and mother’s deteriorating relationship as her father mourned and her mother’s head was turned by investigating detective. Her younger sister, Lindsay is the heroine who pursues the suspected killer by breaking into his home to find irrefutable evidence of his involvement in her sister’s disappearance. This was a powerhouse of a performance by Iyoola Smart. Her drive to fix her own broken heart is ultimately provided by finding love which Susie feels, tangibly and jealously from her heaven. Her younger brother, resentful of his father’s consumption by his grief and even the family dog (played by an ensemble member). all added greatly to sympathetic and powerful story telling of bare, raw, grief and loss.

This production was a joy to watch from start to finish. Flash lighting to show snapshot tableaux to begin didn’t make sense until later when I realised they were Susie’s photos and memories. The set, a surreal masterpiece of a huge mirrored backcloth which was opaque and transparent like a gauze at points provided a reflection of earth and the heavenly place where Susie is watching and interacting from. The chalked-out zone where Susie seems to be trapped between life and death was used to demarcate the killer’s home. In the movie, this was the most jaw-dropping suspense-filled scene as Mr Harvey comes home early and almost catches Susie’s sister looking for evidence before she leaps out of a window to safety. In the play, the director had used demarcated chalk lines in an oblong to mark stairs - the actors stood centimetres apart as he almost catches her. Their use of physical theatre was incredible. I held my breath for her as it felt so intense. Genius direction of a difficult idea to create on a stage! The murderer's other victims, all young girls, appear to Susie in heaven and become her friends. A creative imagination of disembodied, puppet dresses with their own puppeteers and characters was magical and added to the supernatural nature and ghostly, spirit presence as they act together to spook and terrify the murderer in a later scene.

Susie’s fellow student Ruth was a magnificent performance by Leigh Lothian. Her goth, poetic character really had a big effect on the tale as she was pivotal to Susie being remembered. Susie touched her as she left her body at point of death and she can see and hear Susie at points. Her droll, flat delivery gave her some of the best lines in the play and her musical contributions were a highlight; particularly the scene of remembrance at the cornfield a year on from Susie’s death.

The final resolution gave the audience some satisfaction that some justice had been done with the murderer, Mr Harvey dying by being impaled by a falling icicle but this didn’t quite rectify Susie’s unnecessary death. You felt that Susie would be perpetually suspended in a newer, wider heaven dancing and singing as the show ended.

A truly memorable production of a stunning literary work brought to life with love and imagination by a hugely talented company and production.

Reviewer - Kathryn Gorton
on - 15/10/19

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