Radio review Transcript

Cambridge 105 Phil Rowe with Nicola Upson 

The Lovely Bones review November 6

PR: And you’ve been back to The Arts Theatre again to see The Lovely Bones this time. Lovely or not?

NU: Really lovely! 

PR: Oh?

NU: It’s such a special piece of theatre, this. And what I thought was amazing about it, is how it manages to be so many different things. It’s the story of a girl called Susie Salmon, who is having an ordinary day and on her way home from school she is raped and murdered. So, it’s a very harrowing, serious story, based on the novel by Alice Sebold. It was a huge sensation in 2002 when it came out. It was the best selling debut novel since Gone With The Wind. 

PR: Oh my goodness me!

NU: Yes. So quite something and it’s quite brave to take into any different format at all. But Susie Salmon... so from the start when we meet her, we know she’s dead and we know she’s in heaven. And so the rest of the action is played out between her in heaven and her family and her murderer; who are going on with their lives on earth and how the family are coming to terms with the grief and how the murderer is pursuing these various, evil concoctions as he goes along. 

It’s a murder story, it’s a ghost story;  it’s a really moving exploration of grief and loss and how families come to terms with that. And it’s a piece of theatrical magic and yet, it NEVER  loses its focus. It can be all those things but the moment you sit down ....and I will warn people there’s a very abrupt and loud start to the play. 

PR: Oh good lord.

NU: And as you go and take your seat in the auditorium...it’s a fairly bare stage. Except for a few twigs and a snow globe and a birds nest and some intriguing items placed around. But there’s a sloping mirror at the back of the stage so you can see yourself as you sit down in your seat until the play actually starts. And then there’s another very clever piece of staging in the mirror.

Sometimes - depending on the lighting - sometimes the mirror is a mirror and sometimes the mirror is a transparent sort of gauze that you see through.

And there’s a row of houses which represents the street that Alice lived, but also slightly sinister because her killer, Mr. Harvey (it’s not giving anything away, because you know exactly who he is from the very start) makes models and dolls houses and things like that. So you see him and he hides various trophies from his killings, because it soon becomes clear that this is not the first time he’s killed and there is a trail of little girls who Susie subsequently meets in heaven, who are her fellow victims. 

PR: I see how you can do this in a book. I mean, I’m no author; I’m sat in the presence obviously a clearly great one, but I can see how you could do that in a book because you’ve got words on a page.. you can make it however you want to do it. I could see with CGI and with clever editing how you could do that in a film. But this sounds quite complicated. A set of story lines, to be running on a fixed stage, with maybe some movement from bringing things on and off, but not an awful lot of movement...

NU: It is quite complicated in the way it sounds. But I should say that it’s been adapted by Bryony Lavery who is just wonderful ... she writes original plays and she also does some beautiful adaptations. And she describes it as some rather .... what was it? Lots of paths crossing through a rather beautiful and disturbing forest.

And I think that’s a brilliant explanation. 

But actually, they do what theatre does best. As complicated as I might have made it sound, they actually do it in quite a simple way. Because you’ve got the technicality of the mirror and everything in the set, but basically they draw a line in dust or chalk around the stage, which is Susie’s parameters of heaven and every time she tries to go beyond that, she gets hauled back. But you see earth going on... so you see her moving around on earth between her family and her friends and she’s just on the cusp of her first love and fourteen ... what a rotten time to be wrenched from the world (any time would be horrific) but its very moving how they show that her life was just beginning. But she walks amongst her friends and family because they can’t see her, except fleetingly. And it’s really clever how they do that. Because at the same time as you’ve got the family and the friends coming to terms with her loss and what her loss has meant to their lives on stage, you’ve also got her! Continuing to be a sometimes a quite stroppy and justifiably angry teenager up in heaven. 

PR: because you take the character with you, presumably. Well I hope so otherwise we’d be bored.

NU: Precisely! But it could easily have been so saccharine and sentimental. But it’s none of those things. It’s a really raw, hard hitting piece and the author of the original book,

Alice Sebold, was raped and beaten up and she has said in interviews that part of the impetus of the book is that she didn’t die but she wants to give a voice to the people who weren’t as lucky as she was (I hesitate to use the word lucky but you know what I mean) lived to tell the tale and give a voice to what she says ... the masses of young women .. and growing up in the seventies she talks about how in America there always seemed to be serial killers and lots of young girls being attacked....the way she portrays Mr Harvey the killer, is terribly dark and terribly frightening and you do get a real sense of the reality of that death and that murder. Whilst of course being played out against this inverted (?) fantasy of heaven and earth.

PR: It’s interesting because it was made into a film in 2009,  but you and I were working out between us. And it was quite a big cast then and it looks like quite a big cast ....

NU: it is a big cast, yeah. And they play multiple.. It’s simple little things like the dead girls that Susie meets. Come on as empty dresses moved around by the actors. One of the actors plays the dog. The family dog, so you even get the pets grief. There’s a lovely scene up in heaven early on when Susie is playing with lots of dogs and all the cast are playing the dogs as well. So yes. It’s a HUGE cast. Multi parts but beautifully ... it’s very physical as well. It’s wonderfully choreographed. 

PR: In terms of that lead role - was just looking at that lead role - Charlotte Beaumont. Now, Charlotte Beaumont you’ll know her from Broadchurch...she’s also been in a film Jupiter Ascending...well, she’s got loads of stuff.

NU: Yeah Death in Paradise, Waterloo Road, Eastenders...but she is essentially so definitely Susie Salmon and no one else could be.

PR: Well that must be... you’re going to need a good actress to that one. You’re going to have to have one that been through all the schools, done all the workshops, knows how to do it.   because it must be a complicated role to play.

NU: It is a complicated role. You have to get it just right. And I think that’s true of most things. I mean, the parents grief and the family and the, you know, the boyfriend who’s moving on with his career and his life, but never forgetting Susie. It’s ... I couldn’t fault it. 

PR: well you did say before you came on, best thing you’d seen in ages.

NU: I did. I did. I seem to say that quite often when I come in here to talk to you

PR: credit to the Arts Theatre then, because you’re all excited about the new season and it sounds like... 

NU: It is it’s been a cracker yeah and we’ve still got Prism...I’m going to come and talk about that in a couple of weeks. We had Jack Cardiff’s interview with Mandy on the LS last Sunday

PR: Indeed

NU: It’s still online if you want to have a look at it there.  But Robert Lindsay is playing Jack Cardiff, so we’ll see how that comes across. 

PR: There we are. For this week you can content yourselves with The Lovely Bones, it’s on at the Cambridge Arts Theatre ... it’s on until Saturday night, last performance is Saturday night. Tickets as usual, £20 to £40 including a booking fee at 745 every evening and a matinee on Thursday and Saturday at 230

NU: I’m telling you - I’ve got a busy week - if I had time I would go and see it all over again. Very happily. 

PR: There you are, you heard it here first thank you ever so much Nicola 

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