There was an unusual air of expectation at Oxford Playhouse last night as we waited for Lovely Bones to begin. 

We knew we were in for a treat because the reviews have been incredible, but those who’ve read Alice Sebold’s globally selling novel, or watched the ensuing film, knew it would be a brutal ride.

From the word go, we are on the edge of our seats, the dark stage lit up sporadically by white flashes and alt-rock music, its eerie, edgy, violent tone set for the evening – unremitting from beginning to end

The story does, after all, depict the murder and rape of Susie Salmon, a 14 year old girl from Pennsylvania, and the tale unfolds through her eyes, sat in heaven, while her friends, relatives and police try to piece together what happened.

We are also privy to the knowledge, from the very beginning, of who killed her, which makes our frustration as avid as Susie’s.

And yet the reason this macabre tale is so beloved, is because of its nuances – soft against hard, love against despair, desire against defeat, passion against acceptance, frustration against apathy, and our indefatigable need to live, to feel, to endure. 

It has moments of love, laughter and tenderness throughout which balance out the violence and fear. In short, it’s an emotional rollercoaster.

Reminiscent of the Curious Incident’s staging, the special effects and stage trickery are quite brilliant thanks to Bryony Lavery’s adaption and Melly Still’s directing vision. Smoke and mirrors yes, but spatially, the shapes and architectural awareness of the set is hugely coercive

From the word go, we are on the edge of our seats, the dark stage lit up sporadically by white flashes and alt-rock music, its eerie, edgy, violent tone set for the evening – unremitting from beginning to end.

Uncomfortable yes, but as all good thrillers, mesmerising and captivating throughout.

The murder itself takes place in the first five minutes, as harrowing for the many young people in the audience as the parents I’m sure. Once the gruesome scenes are over, the plot then unfolds.

Susie is played effortlessly by Charlotte Beaumont, who must be hoarse every night from all that frustrated screaming, as those she left behind wade around in abject misery trying to rebuild their lives.

Her positivity is the only thing that lifts the mood, and balances out the terrifying story-line, that and the fact she is, at least, in heaven.

Reminiscent of the Curious Incident’s staging, the special effects and stage trickery are quite brilliant thanks to Bryony Lavery’s adaption and Melly Still’s directing vision. Smoke and mirrors yes, but spatially, the shapes and architectural awareness of the set is hugely coercive.

In terms of acting and casting, the characters couldn’t be any more believable – even the puppets of the dead girls are haunting. Considering much of the cast are 14 or younger, you forget they are played by older actors as they take you back to a time which should be innocent, but in Lovely Bones is anything but.

A bruising look at human relationships, flaws, tragedy and redemption, and a harrowing but unmissable ride. 14+

pics by Pamela Raith

On until Saturday at Oxford Playhouse. 01865 305305. oxfordplayhouse.com

Katherine MacAlister

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here