Jasper Jones

Melbourne Theatre Company’s ‘Jasper Jones’

At the opening night of Melbourne Theatre Company’s production of Jasper Jones, the foyer was abuzz with champagne, photographers and various faces from the entertainment sphere. There was excitement in the air for this hugely anticipated adaptation of Craig Silvey’s 2009 award-winning novel. The book was one of my highlight reads of 2013, but my plus one went in completely oblivious to the plotline. We both loved every minute of the performance.

The stage is set as a rural Australian town in the 1960s. We are invited to witness the town’s goings on through the eyes of Charlie Bucktin, a bookish, lanky 14-year-old. Guy Simon delivers an outstanding and often heart-breaking performance as the play’s namesake, Jasper Jones, a young Aboriginal boy whom Charlie reveres and aims to impress. Enigmatic and ‘wayward’, the town is quick to dismiss Jasper as a ‘half-caste’. Early on, Jasper shares with Charlie an horrific discovery – they find the body of a teenage girl and are immediately implicated.

The set emphasises the uniquely Australian aspects of this story: the tall gum trees, the Christmas decorations hanging in the summer heat, and the sounds of buzzing cicadas and chortling magpies. Amongst weatherboard houses and corrugated iron, a narrative unfolds that is essentially a small-town whodunit, wrapped up in a coming-of-age story. Charlie and his best friend Jeffrey Lu kill time bantering about their favourite superheroes and I was delighted that the witty repartee I remembered from the novel proved hilarious in live theatre. The audience also laughed out loud to Nicholas Denton’s performance of Charlie painstakingly trying to strike up conversations with love interest Eliza.

This play beautifully transports us back to the awkward, chrysalis-like state of teenagedom – having to negotiate between making grownup decisions with real-world consequences, whilst still being hounded by parents with house rules. As Charlie is drawn further into Jasper Jones’ world, we see him start to sweat the big stuff: the temporary nature of our existence and what it means to be a hero in real life.

Kate Mulvany has delivered a truly brilliant page-to-stage adaptation that amplifies Silvey’s themes of racism, hypocrisy, family life, rejection and loss. To this end, director Sam Strong has really pushed performers to not hold back in issuing racist slurs or in the demonstration of police brutality. At times I felt myself and others around me cringe at what we witnessed.

‘Jasper Jones’ is a poignant, thought-provoking drama, with smatterings of laugh out loud humour.  It’s not just an entertaining production; it’s an important one, and proves as relevant for audiences now as the era in which it was set.

– Kaz
When Kaz isn’t procrastinating over a Master’s Degree she enjoys exploring Melbourne and working on her 90s dance routines. 

‘Jasper Jones’ runs until 9th September 2016 at the Sumner Theatre, Southbank. Book now.
This venue is wheelchair accessible, and hearing systems are available at set times.

Disclaimer: The Plus Ones were invited guests of Melbourne Theatre Company.
Photo credit: Jeff Busby.