By Paul Kiely
Images: Photo © Bob Sear
The Lovely Bones
By Alice Sebold
Adapted by Bryony Lavery
Directed by Deborah Mulhall
A New Theatre Production by arrangement with Origin Theatrical On behalf of Samuel French. A Concord Theatricals Company
542 King Street
Season: 23 November – 18 December 2021. Bookings: www.newtheatre.com.au Duration: 120 minutes plus interval
The main event which steers the story in The Lovely Bones is horrific and spine-chilling. And yet, it is not a tale of fear. Quite the opposite.
Hope, peace and solace were recurring themes. Whilst not uplifting, the play provides an understanding of human failings and frailties.
The Lovely Bones centres around 14-year-old Susie Salmon (Sarah Maguire), who is lured into a trap on a cornfield by her middle-aged neighbour, Mr Harvey (Sean Taylor). She is molested, murdered and mutilated; her limbs locked away in a safe which Mr Harvey later dumps in a sinkhole.
As Susie’s parents Jack (Ted Crosby) and Abigail (Cassady Maddox Booth) agonise over the whereabouts of their daughter, Mr Harvey feigns empathy as he tells them he is “sorry for their loss.”
Jack and Abigail are confronted also with the emptiness of their relationship as it slowly withers with the passing of time. Jack’s grief torments and consumes him whilst Abigail regrets past decisions and finds comfort in the arms of another man.
We also see how others are affected by Susie’s disappearance. Her sister Lindsay (Naomi Belet) finds purpose in her life and develops a new-found respect for her dad, both now determined to find Susie’s killer.
Susie’s quirky classmate Ruth (Kirsty Saville) is touched by the local events in a strange way. She forms a connection with Ray (Shiva Chandra) which enables Susie’s earthly ‘crush’ to be lived out.
Detective Len Fenerman (Brendan McBride) does his best to investigate Susie’s murder. However, suffering the loss of his wife from suicide, indirectly leads him to cross a professional boundary.
Observing all these terrestrial happenings from heaven is Susie. Free of fear and misery, she narrates the story and intersperses with personal feelings and thoughts. Upon arriving, she says “Mum, I’m in heaven. It’s horrible.”
This is an interesting literacy technique used by Alice Sebold, the writer of The Lovely Bones’ She speculates on what the deceased may think of our daily decisions and hints that our intuitions may be directed from a spiritual source. All without any suggestion of religious overtones.
Adapted for the stage by Bryony Lavary, The Lovely Bones is never dull, albeit a little lengthy. All the characters are convincingly played, especially the sinister Mr Harvey. Of course, the original novel had its beginnings from a real-life assault on the writer, so her passion is evident in the characterisations, script and plot.
The production team have done an excellent job. Under the direction of Deborah Mulhall, the set, costumes, sound and lighting all complement the dark nature of the story.
Some of the issues raised in the play will be confronting to audience members. However, these are a necessary brief discomfort if the intended favourable outcomes are to be appreciated in their context.
A different kind of story, ‘The Lovely Bones’ is perfect for those seeking greater depth and meaning in their lives.