In the sizzling summer of 1965, a bookish 14 year old boy flees from the boredom and bullying of small-town life by burying himself in stories of epic adventure. He never thought he would find himself living one.
Jasper Jones, the latest production by Queensland Theatre invites us into the world of Charlie Bucktin, idling away is teenage years trapped in a tiny insignificant bush town where nothing happens. And if anything does happen, the people of the town know who to blame—Jasper Jones. But now, a terrible crime has been committed and Jasper swears it was not him. Charlie must help catch the real culprit and clear Jasper’s name.
Adapted for the stage by Kate Mulvany from the novel by Craig Silvey, the story is bittersweet. Complex, multi-layered themes are explored including what it means to belong, loyalty and trust and how we can be brave. Set against the backdrop of the Vietnam war, with Australia’s jaded record of tolerance and treatment of Indigenous Australians at the forefront, cultural and racial injustices are also examined. The production is at times tense and serious, but this is balanced with moments of humour. Our protagonist Charlie, for instance, on being offered a cigarette replies “No thank you. I’ve just smoked so much already today, I’m full.” More subtly but widely reacted to by the crowd, during a game of cricket the bowler and captain can be seen using a piece of sandpaper to tamper with the ball.
Jasper Jones fosters in the audience a sense of togetherness, as though each member is embarking on a shared journey with the people beside them, in front of them and all around. As the climax of the play neared, the tension around the room was high. There was a loud, collective gasp from the audience at one point, everyone sharing in the shock of the on stage revelations. Terror, too, at some points, followed by companionable reassurances around the room.
Again, Queensland Theatre has made excellent use of the Playhouse’s revolving stage. The set is sent spinning, giving the impression that the cast are moving forward in time and space; a simple trick well utilised. Casting, too, is outstanding with every actor fitting their character’s brief perfectly. Nicholas Denton is the epitome of the teenage nerd with his portrayal of Christopher, and Shaka Cook as Jasper Jones is his perfect counter. The two boys are opposite in every way and their uneasy yet fond relationship is well conveyed. Melanie Zanetti is wonderful, delighting and endearing the audience in one moment, and in the next frightening everyone to death. She handles both with equal aplomb.
Jasper Jones is now playing at Playhouse, QPAC until 18 August.
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