Theatre Review: “These were The Lovely Bones that had grown around my absence.”
Content Warning: Sexual Assault
Imagine being trapped in a realm where you can see everything, but nothing can see you. This would seemingly be ideal for some, but when Susie Salmon is raped and murdered at 14 years old, her life had been irreversibly reduced to this exact state. Bryony Lavery’s theatre adaptation of The Lovely Bones allows for the sharing of Susie’s view from heaven in a crossover between earth and the afterlife. The audience joins Susie in her desperate quest to re-connect with her family, and seek justice not only for herself, but for her fellow victims who suffered the same tragic fate at the hands of the same perpetrator.
Headstrong and restless, Susie Salmon is your typical 14-year-old girl. Her character is bursting with a desire for independence and love for life, and her undying energy allows for comic relief of the play’s intense subject. The plot line of the production addresses heavily sensitive issues throughout but is expressed without it being overbearing or romanticised. Lavery stages the play with tasteful representation in mind, being ever-respectful of the victim.
Whilst The Lovely Bones is densely centred around murder and sexual assault, one of the contrasting major themes of the play is the exploration of relationships in many forms. Before the attack, Susie develops a crush on one of her classmates: Ray. Tormented by their distance now that Susie is dead, we get a sense of what it must be like to not be able to contact one of the things you love most dearly. Meanwhile, Susie’s parents’ relationship is challenged by both grief and wanderlust, and Susie’s sister explores her own romantic path. As Susie watches on, her frustrations grow as a result of not having any impact on the situation on earth. It is Susie’s constant presence throughout the production that highlights the spiritual nature of her character, and actress Charlotte Beaumont does not retire from the stage once. The 100-minute spectacle runs uninterrupted, but it’s continuous set is questionable as a representation of the time it takes for a family’s healing process to be complete.
The limited props on stage are used effectively, each contributing to the action. Simplistic and easily manipulated, the use of chalk creates the set in real-time, allowing for the design to progress alongside the story. The sense of stage space is opened up through the use of a tilted mirror that gives a constant dual perspective. At any one time, two viewpoints can be seen on stage, but there is fluctuation through three different planes of existence: those present on stage, the actors in a different place at the same time, and those in the spiritual realm. Ana Ines Jabares-Pita’s design also contributes a subtle commentary on sexual assault when the stage fills with actors guiding empty dresses with their arms to represent the facelessness of the violated.
The combination of Sebold’s original story, with Lavery’s adaptation, and Jabares-Pita’s creative vision creates a harmonious and thorough observation into the mind of a dead 14-year-old girl. With a bittersweet ending, those in the audience are simultaneously weighed down and optimistic about the future of the characters showing this play to truly pull on one’s innermost emotions. The Lovely Bones is a must-see for those who are suckers for tragedies and the quest for peace, and is being performed at Liverpool’s Everyman Theatre until the 6th October.
By Rachael Wass and Freya Darbyshire