Bindi-eyes in bare feet, backyard cricket, corrugated iron and stifling summer nights spent on airless sleep outs…
As a child of the 60’s growing up in Central Queensland, there’s so much that’s viscerally familiar to me in Queensland Theatre’s production of Jasper Jones. But I can happily report that murder and mystery were never features of my formative years.
They are, however, at the heart of this stage adaptation of Craig Silvey’s celebrated novel of Australian youth.
It’s 1965 and 14 year old Charlie Bucktin escapes the monotony of small town life by losing himself in adventure novels. One fateful night, real-life adventure comes calling in the shape of Jasper Jones.
A tap at Charlie’s window; the discovery of a girl’s body in the bush; and suddenly the little country town of Corrigan ‘where nothing ever changes’ is mired in a mystery that only Jasper and Charlie can solve.
Dark themes of racism and incest swirl through this coming-of-age story – but there’s plenty of joyous humour too. Charlie’s cricket-mad best mate, Jeffrey Lu, played by Hoa Xuande, comes close to stealing the show for laughs.
And Nicholas Denton’s portrayal of gangly Charlie – first seen in shortie pyjamas, sandals and spectacles – is imbued with all the endearing awkwardness of adolescence.
That makes him the perfect foil to Shaka Cook who plays the eponymous protagonist of the play: the street-wise, cigarette-puffing Jasper Jones. The pair form an unlikely alliance that ultimately pits them against Mad Jack Lionel, the town’s sinister and secretive Boo Radley-like character – played by Hayden Spencer.
There are strong performances from the entire cast – but special mention must go to an unbilled star: the set.
A genius of compact design, the little town of Corrigan revolves before our eyes – sad weatherboard houses, street lamps and flower gardens roll by. Add clever stage direction and the illusion is complete: we are running, barefoot, with Charlie and Jasper through the shadowy streets as they pursue their feverish mission to find the truth behind a brutal crime.