As I entered a gleefully busy northern Stage, I must admit that my preconceptions of The Lovely Bones were somewhat negative. I had seen the film adaptation when I was too young to view a film, which my mum had promised me I would find ‘uplifting’, as anything other than scary. I had also heard from multiple fans of the book that the film did not do the book justice, with its complicated relationship between the natural and supernatural coming across as rather corny on screen. Needless to say, I was a bit apprehensive.
As I sat in the theater thinking over my apprehensions and waiting for the performance to start, I realised what the stage I was so blankly staring at actually was. The entire back wall of Northern Stage’s large Stage 1 had been covered over by some sort of mirror. The rows of corn field which looked to me to be standing up, were actually reflections of corn that had been laid down on the stage floor. This promisingly well-designed set laid out the tone of the piece before it had even began, as one which would do anything but give in to my negative preconceptions.
It created a space packed with a complex mix of happiness and frustration.
The Lovely Bones, adapted by Bryony Lavery and originally written by Alice Sebold, deals with a teenage girl navigating her way in and out of heaven and earth after-death, coming to terms with how her family grieve and move on after her death. I was worried that the production would do some kind of corny elevated platform to depict heaven, as though protagonist Susie Salmon’s experiences of heaven and earth were wholly separate. But instead the production found a way to have both heaven and earth existing on the same stage, sometimes simultaneously. Susie’s seamless transition from one world to another made heaven seem less like the standard glamorous blissful afterlife we’re often sold. It created a space packed with a complex mix of happiness and frustration.
What was most impressive about the performance was how well Charlotte Beaumont depicted Susie Salmon. Teenage characters are often over-simplified or stereotyped, but Latimer portrayed the lovable angst, sexual exploration and childlike attachment to their parents that 14 year old girls have perfectly. It is always especially precious to see a character you find that believable on stage – let alone when said character is existing in the sort of supernatural setting Susie is in. She and her family come across as obscurely relatable and incredibly powerful characters throughout the piece.
The only negative comment I can outright give this production is that its run at Northern Stage isn’t longer, if you have a chance to see it before its run ends, I would highly advise it. It shows a creative adaptation of a story that isn’t the easiest to translate on to stage, and does it with a grace that maintains the realistic nature of the piece, keeping intact the story and characters that made so many fall in love with The Lovely Bones.