A protagonist trying to solve their own murder from beyond the grave might be a novel idea, if you’ve never seen Ghost. In fact, had you never seen Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased) either you might think it entirely original. Sadly this production of Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones is less interesting that anything Patrick Swayze or Kenneth Cope could muster.
The book has already been adapted for the cinema by Peter Jackson and is now touring on stage in a new adaptation by Bryony Lavery directed by Melly Still. In a brief 100 minutes without an interval, the emotional weight gets buried and the uneasy mix of child murder and whimsy comes off as glib, hollow.
When Susie Salmon (kooky name, kooky girl!) narrates her own rape and intones “I am the mortar, he is the pestle,” it’s a moment startling in its awfulness. But then Susie goes to Heaven and watches her friends and family come to terms with her loss and she attempts to haunt her nearest and dearest into uncovering her murderer.
Eventually we seem to come to the conclusion that Susie’s rape and murder was for the best after all. The combination of horrifying trauma and sickly mawkishness (a dog, played here by Karan Gill wearing a plastic cone, is called Holiday) makes for a frequently nauseating mix.
The characters are so poorly drawn they might as well forego names and stride around the stage with their archetypes emblazoned across their chests: Grief-Crazed Dad; We-Have-To-Move-On-With-Our-Lives Mum; Nagging Mother-In-Law; Troubled Cop. But The Lovely Bones still has an ace up its sleeve: the paedo-est paedo of them all, Keith Dunphy as Harvey. Half anorak; all pederast.
Too often the play lumbers through the plot, ticking off moments that move the narrative along and rarely giving us much characterisation to hang on to. None of the characters are especially believable as real people, nor are they especially likeable. Charlotte Beaumont is game as Susie, but the frequent detours of the lead character into romcom tropes is tonally baffling.
Where The Lovely Bones does work is in some affecting set pieces that marry an evocative soundtrack with the startling set – a wall of reflective material, tilted to give the audience a dual perspective. At times it becomes translucent, allowing us to watch the silent work of Harvey, or listen to another set of rules and regs from Heaven’s administrator. When Susie meets Harvey’s other victims they are represented by puppets, the rest of the cast animating dresses and voicing the sad parade.
But ultimately even these innovative details are insufficient to save a production that comes off as an unlovely blend of Special Victims Unit and High School Musical. Grisly.
The Lovely Bones
Until 6 October