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The Lovely Bones review: a hauntingly beautiful celebration of life, love and family

PUBLISHED: 14:30 08 October 2019 | UPDATED: 16:22 08 October 2019

The Lovely Bones at the Norwich Theatre Royal during its UK Tour. Picture: Pamela Raith

The Lovely Bones at the Norwich Theatre Royal during its UK Tour. Picture: Pamela Raith

Pamela Raith

Following last year's world premiere of the stage adaption of Alice Sebold's best-selling novel The Lovely Bones, the show has embarked on a national tour. Last night, the cast took to the stage for the first of eight shows at the Norwich Theatre Royal.

The Lovely Bones at the Norwich Theatre Royal during its UK Tour. Picture: Pamela RaithThe Lovely Bones at the Norwich Theatre Royal during its UK Tour. Picture: Pamela Raith

Fourteen year old Susie Salmon (Charlotte Beaumont) is raped and murdered during the winter of 1973 in Pennsylvania - robbed of her chance to grow up, she has to watch her family struggle with their grief, her younger siblings Lidsey (Fanta Barrie) and Buckley (Leigh Lothian) grow up and the investigation into her murder from heaven.

With everyone seated in the theatre and excitedly chatting among themselves, the play began with no prior warning. startling the audience with sudden loud rock music and bright lights - the first insight into the incredible lighting and musical components that would help bring this play to life.

Susie is walking home from school through the corn field, when she is approached by George Harvey (Nicholas Khan), who tells her he's made a clubhouse for the local children, naive and enthralled by how he made it - willingly she enters, a fatal decision. Although shocking in places, importantly the play does not shy away from the rape, murder and sexual scenes.

Mr Harvey's den is drawn out on the stage as a chalk rectangle - clearly visible as the entire play is projected on a mirror-like screen that is angled at 45 degrees above the stage which allows the audience to see the events from Susie's viewpoint in heaven as she tells the story of her murder. The chalk rectangle which emits a creamy yellow glow remains on the stage throughout, though it soon becomes the borders of the heaven that Susie cannot escape from. The projections of the play allows for clever and yet simple set design to look unbelievably effective - dolls houses that cannot be seen on the stage are reflected in the mirror, to show the town as Susie ventures into Harvey's clubhouse. It's an innovative and fascinatingly beautiful set design. The mirror-like reflection was well used throughout the play allowing the cast to lay down during scenes and still be seen, draw on the stage floor and for smaller details to be noticed by the audience.

The Lovely Bones at the Norwich Theatre Royal during its UK Tour. Picture: Pamela RaithThe Lovely Bones at the Norwich Theatre Royal during its UK Tour. Picture: Pamela Raith

Susie, dressed in her yellow bell-bottom trousers and striped jumper, is on stage for the entire production trapped within the box that outlines her heaven while she watches her family and tries to help point the investigation of her murder in the correct direction. Beaumont's portrayal of the teenager is wonderful, managing to be optimistic but also angry about her murder and the police's incapablities to solve it, and sad that her siblings and friends get the chance to grow up.

Other cast members can freely enter and leave the boxed off area in which Susie is confined - unaware of it's importance in heaven. She longs to be back on Earth with her family, interacting with them as they go on with their lives. The closeness of the characters on stage is heartbreaking in places, there is a scene where Susie cries that she wants her mum, Abigail (Catrin Aaron) and she is stood right next to her on the stage, so close and yet so far away.

Cracks begin to show as the family deal with Susie's death in their own ways, her father Jack (Jack Sandle) becomes detirmined to solve the murder of his daughter. Susie, aware of who killed her and where her body is, is keen to help her father get answers and justice, shouting advice at him which goes unheard - the determination that spans earth and heaven to catch Mr Harvey propells the story onwards, giving it a purpose to be more than a study of a mourning family.

Whilst it is an emotionally hard-hitting coming-of-age story about loss, just like real-life, there are moments of fleeting happiness and humour which had the audience laughing and drying their tears - from comical lines, the family dog Holiday (Samuel Gosrani) constantly squeaking his dog toy to Susie playing fetch with numerous dogs in heaven. It should be added that the human portrayal of Holiday and the dogs does not seem out of place at all - they blend in with the other members of the cast, as does the impressive use of puppets as a poignant portrayal of other characters.

The Lovely Bones at the Norwich Theatre Royal during its UK Tour. Picture: Pamela RaithThe Lovely Bones at the Norwich Theatre Royal during its UK Tour. Picture: Pamela Raith

The thirteen member strong cast are all extremely talented individuals, with several members seemlessly taking on more than one role. The performances are packed with heart-felt emotion. To give an idea of how much talent there is within such a small group, their credits collectively take up four-sides of paper in the programme. There are scenes where the entire cast is on stage, with several scenes happening at once - the stage directions mean that this is not complicated to follow and was almost the same as watching a edited film montage.

Rock music, the timely classics of David Bowie to stunning acoustic guitar pieces- the choice of tracks were well thought out, beautifully reflecting the emotions being portrayed on stage.

The clever lighting, sound effects, stage design and the fantastic acting interwine to make this one of the most immersive and stunning plays, it was so easy to forget this wasn't a cinematic experience but happening live.

Bryony Lavery's adaption of the heartbreaking novel is a hauntingly beautiful celebration of life, love, family and moving on.

- The Lovely Bones is at the Norwich Theatre Royal until Saturday 12 October

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