Susie Salmon is just like any other young girl. She wants to be beautiful, adores her charm bracelet and has a crush on a boy from school.
There’s one big difference though – Susie is dead.
All she can do is observe while her family manage their grief in their different ways.
Alice Sebold’s novel The Lovely Bones was a unique coming-of-age tale that captured the hearts of readers throughout the world.
Now it is winning similar acclaim in the theatre.
The stage adaptation is at Chichester Festival Theatre from November 26-30 (01243 781312 or www.cft.org.uk).
Jack Sandle is playing the part of Susie’s father Jack who becomes obsessed with identifying her killer.
For devotees of the book, it’s perhaps difficult to imagine how it could possibly transfer to the stage.
“But the greatest indication of how we were going to deal with it was at the start of rehearsals with Melly Still, the director,” says Jack. “She was saying ‘This is the theatre! We can do anything we want!’
“Her imagination is so big she can’t see any problem having heaven and earth on the stage at the same time, with people moving through different dimensions and spaces in different ways.
“With the father, because his grief is reactive, he can’t move on. He is grieving his daughter’s death and can’t find the killer. It is not spoiling anything to say that he gets a visitation from his dead daughter. He sees a clear reflection of her when they are sharing this memory. There are stages of grief that you go through. I think there are seven of them, but he just doesn’t get the chance to move through to acceptance because he can’t find the killer and he has had this supernatural visitation. He never gets to leave that anger and grief stage behind him.
“It is a difficult part to play in some ways and in other ways it is not difficult. It is difficult to play because the more grief you are dealing with, the more shattering it becomes. But it is an easy part to play because the cast is so magnificent at keeping it all alive. We all support each other. The cast are light-hearted and jovial.
“It would be so easy when the curtain comes down to be moping around, but no one is. I think the cast was just so well put together by Polly, the casting director. She has cast a very clever and supportive bunch.
“But also (not moping around) is a defensive thing, I think. We understand that we all need to keep our feet. But actually there are lots of laughs in the play. You wouldn’t believe it, but there are. There are lots of moments where Susie is juxtaposed into the play, and she is commenting on what is happening, and if you took Susie out of those scenes, they would be very serious. But her presence adds humour to what would otherwise be very difficult. Without her, those scenes would be very, very dark.
“Susie knows she is dead and that she is in heaven. But she is really wanting to get some kind of resolution for the crime, her rape and murder. She is obsessed with it, as her dad is, and because of that, she is not yet able to let go. But also she is just watching people grow and watching people explore their lives, and she is interested in that. At the end of the book, the resolution for her is the ability to move on, both as a victim who gains power over her crime and also as a person.”
Tickets from Chichester Festival Theatre.