I was 16 when The Lovely Bones was published, just two years older than the main character, Susie Salmon, who has been murdered and is now trapped in some kind of in-between. The heavy subject matter made waves through my school year, and in particular me and my angsty group of pals, but the story doesn’t seem like the easiest thing to translate to stage. We talked to designer Ana Inés Jabares-Pita about the challenges of creating a set showing both the everyday and the afterlife.
Ana and The Lovely Bones director, Melly Still, began talking back in February last year to thrash around initial ideas on how the set would look. As well as creating a Pinterest board to store their inspirations (below) “we would say to each other “watch this film, read this book, go and see this exhibition”. Sometimes it’s not even an image that's the starting point for the design, it’s just a feeling. For example, it could be a feeling of claustrophobia, or of darkness.”
Ana's adamant that the audience can be trusted to understand abstract and unusual staging ideas. “The story needs to be clear – but it doesn’t need to be literal for the audience to follow what is going on. We use poetic, visual metaphors in The Lovely Bones. For example there's a large mirror above the stage that's a key part of the design. It helps portray heaven and earth at the same time, staying faithful to the novel which is very much looking at the world from Susie’s point of view.”
“The actors needed to be able to move and disappear without having walls or big architectural things on stage. We also wanted to use everyday things that help tell the story”. Another important device is the stage being covered in soil. Like actual mud. “The ground's such an important feature of the story and Susie describes really emotively the smell of the earth. If you’re close to the stage, you can smell it too and that’s very immersive” Ana says.
When the audience first arrives, they’ll see the stage is dark, smoky and more like an art installation than a set. And Ana loves the way the viewer can actively play a part in how they watch the story unfold. “As a member of the audience, you can choose where to look. You don’t always have to look at the action on stage, you can have an active role of choosing what you want to see. I’ve watched it so many times, there are so many layers that even now, there’s always something new to look at.”
The Lovely Bones opens tonight at The Rep and runs until Nov 10.