By Alicia Denny
The Lovely Bones
Until November 30
Chichester Festival Theatre, Oaklands Park, Chichester PO19 6AP
A play which opens with an unnerving crashing noise, followed by the pretty realistic rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl, seems like a grim evening at the theatre but The Lovely Bones becomes life affirming.
Bryony Lavery, who has used her talents on lighter fare at Chichester Festival Theatre, such as 101 Dalmatians, faced a difficult task in bringing American Alice Sebbold’s 2002 international bestseller to the stage, not least because she had to devise a way to incorporate heaven, from where victim Susie can still see her family and friends, and earth, where they are dealing with the consequences of her horrific death at the hands of a serial child killer.
She and production team succeed brilliantly, especially with the device of a reflective sheet over the back of the stage, enabling another dimension to be enacted at the same time as the main action, and the painted rectangle defining heaven where Susie, who narrates her own story, vents her frustration at the situation in a typical teenage way.
Charlotte Beaumont is outstanding as Susie, giving her all the naunces of a teenager forever caught in the tangle of feelings and experiences of that time in life and yet having to watch as her loved ones begin to move through their lives without her.
The original book did not shy away from the challenges of growing up, including sexual awakening, and the play has a number of graphic scenes but these are essential to the plot, showing not only Susie’s reaction to them but also how those nearest and dearest to her deal with the aftermath of her tragic death.
Fanta Barrie, as Susie’s sister, Lindsey, Jack Sandle, her tortured father, Samuel Gosrani, her boyfriend, Ray, and Leigh Lothian, with both her acting and singing as poet Ruth, are the pick of a talented supporting cast, while the ensemble scenes and appropriate music from the 1970s adds to the realism of the whole.
The Lovely Bones is thought-provoking in its portrayal of a horrible event and its aftermath but, ultimately, it’s about family and being able to move on after tragedy.