REVIEW: The Lovely Bones at Cambridge Arts Theatre - a chilling and magnificent piece of stagecraft

PUBLISHED: 00:00 05 November 2019 | UPDATED: 00:36 05 November 2019

Jack Sandle as Jack and Charlotte Beaumont as Susie in The Lovely Bones. Picture: PAMELA RAITH

Jack Sandle as Jack and Charlotte Beaumont as Susie in The Lovely Bones. Picture: PAMELA RAITH

Pamela Raith

A 14-year-old girl is on her way home from school on a winter evening as it is getting dark. A neighbour stops her and invites her to see the underground den he has built. He is evil. She will not leave that place alive.

This is a magnificent piece of theatre. The story is gripping, the performances are luminescent, the costumes and set are inspired.

The audience witnesses a gruesome murder.

A 14-year-old girl is on her way home from school on a winter evening as it is getting dark. A neighbour stops her and invites her to see the underground den he has built. She only agrees to be polite. Her father has said the man is "a character".

He is evil. She will not leave that place alive.

Like so many killers, after he has disposed of her body, he offers his sympathy to her distraught family and when challenged for strange behaviour, he simply affects to be helping with the search.

With an ingenious set by Ana Ines Jabares-Pita, (there is a mirror over the stage, which we can see through at the same time as seeing reflections) we see the dead girl looking down at her family and haunting her killer.

Murdered Susie, played with immaculate truth by Charlotte Beaumont, wants desperately to be back with her family - and she wants them to find her killer. But try as she might, she cannot make them hear her. She cannot make them see the clues.

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Beaumont's Susie is a wholesome teenager. This is 1973. Told she can have anything in Heaven she desires, she wants to listen to David Bowie. We see her remembering her first kiss with a schoolfriend. She tells us that if she had known that was all the sex life she was going to have, she would have prepared for it better.

For most of this play, I was on the edge of my seat, often with my hand over my mouth. The audience held its breath - the tension held everyone frozen - but here and there, the play offers some charming, little ripples of humour.

This is very much an ensemble production with many of the the cast going in and out of different roles - seamlessly. You believe every character.

Catrin Aaron is heartbreaking as Susie's broken mother, Jack Sandle brings great depth to the role of Susie's destroyed father - eaten away with grief, he suspects who the killer is but cannot convince the police.

Each member of the family grieves differently. Fanta Barrie gives a nuanced performance as Susie's sister Lindsey caught up in a sorrow she knows she cannot leave but doesn't want to define her.

Samuel Gosrani and Leigh Lothian both show great range - and bring some lightness to this tragic work with their dual roles: Gosrani as Susie's young admirer Ray (he of the first kiss) and the family dog Holiday. Lothian is both the earnest teenage poet Ruth and Susie's toddler brother Buckley.

Most stupendous of course is Nicholas Khan as the killer, Mr Harvey, a performance to make the flesh creep. You really don't want him to follow you home.

Based on the book by Alice Sebold, adapted for the stage by Bryony Lavery, directed by Melly Still, this play is what the theatre was invented for. There are light moments, glimpses of humour and jolly seventies music, but overall, it's a chiller. It's gripping entertainment. A demanding play, requiring superb performances, made to look like a joy to perform. See it and throw flowers on to the stage.

The Lovely Bones is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, November 9.

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