Who: State Theatre Company South Australia
What: Jasper Jones (based on the novel by Craig Silvey, adapted by Kate Mulvany)
When: On until September 7
Where: Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre
Tickets available on the State Theatre Company website
A balmy summer evening in a sleepy outback town in the 60s. Crickets chirp and people chatter and laugh behind the curtains of open windows as the neighbourhood settles down for the night. It’s a setting I feel like I know and have nostalgia for, despite the fact that it came and went decades before I was born. It’s my mum’s childhood, my grandparents’ stories, Storm Boy and Hey Hey It’s Saturday. The State Theatre Company’s Jasper Jones does an admirable job of bringing quaint Corrigan, 1965 to life, fusing it with the sense of childlike wonder and adventure I (and I suspect many) associate the period with. Then the dark and mysterious twists of this contemporary classic of Australian Gothic begin to reveal themselves – keeping the audience interested in the story and elevating it from ‘trip down memory lane’ to absorbing and beautiful theatre.
I’ve seen Rachel Perkins’ movie but I’ve yet to read Silvey’s novel myself – although I’m assured it’s wonderful and I’ve just requested it from my library. So I’m not an expert on this story, but I can tell you what I did and didn’t enjoy about the play. Watching a cast of fully-grown adult actors play 13 to 16 year-olds was as amusing as it was effective. It really helped to bring forth the theme of reflection upon coming-of-age, in all its awkwardness and discovery. It also provided ample room for comedic effect, taken great advantage of by James Smith and Roy Phung as Charlie and Jeffrey. Smith is especially endearing as the nervous and naïve yet gallant Charlie – our protagonist who continuously addresses the audience through monologues and asides, and so actively involves us in his journey. I also loved the depiction of the hanging Laura, and her recurring haunting – a wonderful and chilling spectacle blurring the lines between set and actor.
Though I felt Emma Beech’s performance as Mrs Bucktin was somehow lacking in convincing frustration and depression, her double up as cricket larrakin Warwick was one of my favourite details of the production. I also felt Rachel Burke’s Eliza Wishart could have been conveyed as less of a caricature through the inclusion of more moments highlighting the more serious and nuanced aspects of this character; a traumatised, grieving young girl. Elijah Valadian-Wilson is a charming, enigmatic Jasper Jones with sensitivity and street-smartness balanced skilfully.
I enjoyed watching the beautifully crafted modular set pieces that made up the town of Corrigan fly on and off stage as the constant, looming natural landscape of gums and bush served as a reminder of where we were. The intangible spirituality and complex history of the Australian landscape is translated to the stage well.
Overall, Jasper Jones was lovable, well-rounded Australian storytelling. It’s themes of coming-of-age, bravery, prejudice, crime and love are universal and timeless. Placing them within the setting of Corrigan, 1965 I saw country Australia celebrated as well as critically examined.
Three and a half out of five stars.