Writer Alice Sebold navigates the spirit of teenager Susie Salmon in this down-to-earth story about life after loss. The unexpected tale exploring the in-between of life and death has allowed Sebold’s novel to move to various mediums with distinctively difference results. Despite the core strength coming from the provocative and honest narrative, Melly Still’s stage production allows audiences to step into Susie’s world and memories by reframing scenes in a two-way mirror image that blacks out the majority of the stage.
The story follows Susie Salmon (Charlotte Beaumont) having been raped and murdered by her neighbour, George Harvey (Nicholas Khan). After her death, she is able to watch from heaven as her family and friends continue in vain to search for her and struggle to move on with their lives as she herself comes to terms with her own death.
A film adaption by Peter Jackson released in 2009, gave an Academy Award nod to Stanley Tucci for his villainous portrayal of Susie’s killer, but its CGI world placed Susie in an unrelatable assortment of fantasy sequences. Susie’s 2018 incarnation is on stage with an adaption by Bryony Lavery, having chosen to move the abstract and untouchable scope of heaven into a tangible and intimate space, Lavery endures to create an uplifting and enchanting experience.
Although, not an active protagonist in her own story, Susie is the narrator of her own life, journeying the audiences through the stark and sobering presence of an afterlife in which she is able to follow her parents Jack (Jack Sandle) and Abigail (Catrin Aaron), alongside her younger siblings Buckley (Leigh Lothian) and Lindsey (Fanta Barrie).
Respectfully bringing her story back to life, director Melly Still preserves Susie image in a delicate instillation that allows all the characters to reflect on their personal struggles. Delicately flipping the perspectives in a two-way mirror that flickers between the spirit world and earth; the black void of the Lowry stage allows characters to float and vanish while flipping the audience’s lens to construct Susie’s fantasies within heaven. Using the remaining cast members to fill in as pets and props, the shows minimalist approach brings hand-drawn images to life.
Approaching the unthinkable, its sincere performances, especially from the glittering Beaumont, will help younger audiences see the strength in accepting a sobering truth that we all must learn to deal with. Within its thoughtful story of recovery, Susie’s parents focus their energies in different directions. Jack attempts to get involves in catching the murder, while Abigail wishes to remove herself from the grief, and without offering all the answers about the afterlife, the show allows them both the opportunity to make sense of their injustice.