THEATRE REVIEW: The Lovely Bones ★★

The Lovely Bones
Birmingham Rep 
Friday 6th - Saturday 21st September

Based on the 2002 best-selling novel by Alice Sebold, turned 2009 Motion Picture movie directed by Peter Jackson, The Lovely Bones tells the story of Susie Salmon, a 14 year old raped and murdered by her close neighbour Mr Harvey. Having adapted the book to fit the stage, this theatrical production directed by Melly Still first graced the Birmingham Rep stage in 2018 before turning. A year later and the production has resurfaced with what seems like a vision very closely tied to the book, and unlike the movie, with Susie Salmon, played by Charlotte Beaumont, predominantly centre staged in ‘Heaven’, marked out on the floor as part of the early moments in the play.

Melly Still has done well directing a play in which tackles with some hard hitting moments; there’s no doubt that the opening sequence is striking with certain use of body parts, thanks to Ana Inés Jabares-Pita intriguing and cleverly designed staging, allowing a suspended reflective mirror to capture the action from above, which almost signifies Salmon looking down from the afterlife, but from past this doesn’t manage to really intensify the suspense on stage. Whilst this adaptation does use puppetry to some extent to create smaller characters in the afterlife of those killed previously by Harvey, Still has taken the option to use the company to embody dogs in one moment which makes you question whether this production is to be seen more as a comedy than a thriller, with other moments of more sexually nature between characters deeply unsettling and awkward, especially when three groups of characters are making out on stage. 

The company itself, compromising of a staggering 13 performers, also is where the production hits a slight curve; with many exaggerated moments which really step towards the line of melodramatic acting, it leaves you with little sympathy towards the characters, especially in some cases to the more older performers in the cast. The use of multi-roling also settles badly and leaves you with a sour taste in the mouth, with some excruciating accents and motives. This is further not helped through Matt Haskins unfocused lighting design which rarely highlights well the action; whilst inside Harvey’s house is done to a realistic manner, moments with Susie in Heaven seem a little more brash and unsteady. Mixing the warm states with a cold sense around the action, where the rest of the company slowly walk around quite distractingly, it's very difficult to know where to pay attention.

Overall, The Lovely Bones fails in most parts to comply with the nature of a thriller, with a company that brings small amount of empathy to their counterparts, as well as a direction which at times feels muddled, much like it’s script, adapted by Bryony Lavery, which is layered with too many subplots and characters which share little meaning to the wider focus.


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