Printable CopyJASPER JONES
The State Theatre Company of South Australia
Dunstan Playhouse
Until 07 Sep 2019

Review by Kylie Pedler

Adapted from the modern iconic Australian novel by Craig Silvey, which is now on many school reading lists, Kate Mulvany’s play maintains the mystery and wonder of the original while accentuating the seriousness of the issues at hand. Jasper Jones is a coming of age story, about friendship and loyalty, death and destruction, white Australian politics, and a melting pot of cultures.

Despite its title, the story circulates around Charlie Bucktin who lives in a tiny insignificant town in Western Australia called Corrigan in 1965. It is a place where nothing happens, until the night the town’s scapegoat Jasper Jones knocks on his window. Jasper’s friend Laura Wishart has been beaten and hung from a tree at Jasper’s place. But not all is as it seems and the twists slowly unfold revealing more and more town secrets. As Charlie and his fellow adolescents navigate the wake of death and the secrets they hold about this death an unlikely bond is made. As the story unfolds the audience is invited to recall an Australian past that in reflection is not much different from the present and leaves one questioning how far we have come and yet how far we still have to go.

Ailsa Paterson’s set, Nigel Levings’ lighting design and Andrew Howard’s haunting music are fantastic. Together, this production design team have excelled. In the set’s foreground, doors descend from the rafters, windows slide across the stage complete with louvres that allow for late night escapes, and other small scene changes are made by the ghost who haunts everyone. The back of the stage is a large forest of peeling paperbark like trees of earthy rural tones sitting above the formidable dam. There is a beautiful acknowledgement of country throughout as the landscape of this play is identified as Jasper’s place. The atmospheric textured lighting design with hues of blue and yellow depict the forest’s changes from night to day, but always with a hint of the darkness and secrets that lie within.

Nescha Jelk’s direction uses every inch of the stage effectively, enables the story to move forward with pace while allowing her outstanding cast to develop characters of warm humanity and great complexity.

As quiet book-loving, risk avoiding Charlie Bucktin, James Smith is exceptional: a fantastic storyteller. Constantly on stage he brings great naivety and innocence to the role of Charlie a young boy on the journey of adolescent discovery, at an age when one first becomes aware that maybe life and the world isn’t as innocent and small as we thought. As Charlie wrestles with the big questions, some that have answers and many that don’t, he shares his internal monologue with the audience. Smith brings great sincerity to the role.

Hilarious as Charlie’s cricket obsessed best friend Jeffrey Lu, Roy Phung, provides the much needed humour with exceptionally well-timed comic lines often hiding the complexities of constantly being marginalised and the victim of racist taunts. However, Phung is also exceptional at delivering the poignant moments as his character shares how his family is impacted by the Vietnam war. Elijah Valadian-Wilson moves effortlessly through the set as Jasper Jones. It is clear this is his place and he is one with his surroundings. Rachel Burke reveals the complexities of Eliza Wishart’s character; energetic and free spirited despite her hidden turmoil. In dual roles, Emma Beech and Rory Walker are also fantastic.

An emotionally powerful, thought-provoking piece of theatre that needs to be seen.