You would not think that a production beginning with the rape, murder and dismemberment of a teenage girl who goes to heaven would provide fodder for a winning play.
Susie is walking home after school through a cornfield in Pennsylvania when the family’s neighbour George entices her into an underground children’s den he has built in the field. There he commits his vile crime.
Alice Sebold, author of her first wildly successful novel of the same name on which Bryony Lavery’s adaptation is based, wrote the work years after she was raped as a freshman college student.
This production at the New Theatre, which robbed the director and cast of five weeks of rehearsals when another lockdown was imposed, employs fourteen actors to play the numerous roles.
At the centre of the story is Susie Salmon who, in a supernatural twist, tells her story from heaven standing on a construction that looks like a balcony from a rustic cottage in the woods.
The talented, hearing-impaired Sarah Maguire plays Susie, who watches over her family and friends and frequently visits earth by nimbly sliding down a fireman’s pole.
Her friend Ruth (Kirsty Saville) can see Susie’s spirit and even swaps places with her which allows Susie to make love with her old boyfriend Ray (Shiva Chandra).
Susie’s murder has a devastating effect on her family when their disbelief that she is dead is shattered by the discovery of an elbow, which proves to be Susie’s.
Her father Jack (Ted Crosby) is determined to find her killer, while her mother Abigail (Cassady Maddox Booth) leaves her husband after having an affair with local detective Len (Brendan McBride), who eventually gives up on the case for lack of evidence.
Director Deborah Mulhall has pulled together a large capable cast from the New Theatre’s call for auditions for this play.
No doubt some of the cast were suffering from first-night nerves, as was evident from some awkward pauses in the dialogue. Some of the cast members bumped into one anotheron the crowded stage on which there were numerous risers to negotiate. There were also some lighting failures, with some group scenes and individual cast members poorly lit.
No doubt these things will be rectified as the cast settles into their roles and become familiar with the layout of the somewhat cluttered stage.
The play ends on a high note with Susie standing centre stage surrounded by family and friends.
Until Dec 18. New Theatre, 542 King St, Newtown. $22-$35+b.f. Tickets & Info: www.newtheatre.org.au