dpm is a Birmingham-based freelancer with experience of arts and lifestyle features.
Adaptation of best-selling novel
Alice Sebold's best-selling novel is given a new lease of life in this bold and ambitious stage adaptation. Tackling Sebold's novel is no easy task but the production, adapted by Bryony Lavery and currently at Birmingham Repertory Theatre, succeeds exceptionally well in capturing this imaginative and thought-provoking tale.
The Lovely Bones tells the story of Susie Salmon, a 14-year-old girl murdered by a neighbour, but what makes the novel so different is the fact the story is related by Susie from her viewpoint in Heaven. Here she looks down as lives change, relationships come together and break apart and people move on. And while she is physically no longer a part of their lives, the memory of her and the hunt for her killer remains central to her family and friends.
Charlotte Beaumont is outstanding as the feisty Susie. Decked in her seventies' yellow flares she shouts, dances and stomps through Heaven. Like any headstrong teenager, she stubbornly refuses to accept her fate and is determined to try to return to Earth and those she loves.
Keith Dunphy is her killer, the neighbour Mr Harvey. A seemingly unassuming man, he has planned his murder meticulously and, as the story unfolds, we learn that Susie has not been his first victim. Dunphy manages to be both incredibly ordinary yet also quite scary at the same time. When Susie's sister Lindsey (Ayoola Smart) breaks into his house searching for evidence and he returns we all fear for her.
For Susie's parents, played by Jack Sandle and Emily Bevan, the loss of their daughter becomes more than they can cope with as they are driven apart by their different ways of responding to her disappearance. But a saviour comes in the unlikely figure of Susie's booze and cigarette loving grandmother played with humour by Susan Bovell.
Directed by Melly Still and designed by Ana Ines Jabares-Pita, the staging is highly effective. Heaven is marked out like a school playground and Susie is trapped within its margins. But by using a reflective backdrop, Jabares-Pita creates levels within the same stage so that a number of different scenes can be taking place at the same time.
There's a lot of energy to the piece, which makes good use of pop and rock music to help set the scene and also the time. From David Bowie to Tears for Fears we move through the decades with Susie and her family.
The production is presented by a consortium of theatres – Birmingham Rep, Royal and Derngate in Northampton, Northern Stage and Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse and it's a great example of how regional theatres can work together to tackle challenging drama. Sebold's book has been hugely popular for nearly two decades and many will have thought it could never have been successfully staged but this Lovely Bones proves them wrong.