Adapted by Kate Mulvany
Barking Gecko Theatre Company
State Theatre Centre Studio
REVIEW DAVID ZAMPATTI
I wish this review was able to inspire you to rush out for tickets to Barking Gecko's Jasper Jones. Sadly, despite its relatively long season, it has all but sold out.
There's an obvious reason for this. The novel upon which it is based, by WA writer Craig Silvey, has been widely admired and wildly popular in the five years since its publication.
Barking Gecko has built a fine reputation - greatly enhanced under John Sheedy as its artistic director since 2010 - as it made the ambitious transition from a children's theatre company to one for young people of all ages.
This wonderful production is the apogee of its achievement so far.
It's 1965. Australian forces in Vietnam are growing, boosted by the introduction of conscription. Back home, Normie Rowe is the King of Pop and the country waits in breathless anticipation for the Test cricket debut of the precocious Doug Walters.
Charlie Bucktin (James Beck) is a 15-year-old loner in Corrigan,a country town made for making, and breaking, them.
One night, late, he's startled by Jasper Jones (Shaka Cook), the town's half-caste outcast and scapegoat of choice, at his louvered window. Jasper is urgent and troubled. He leads Charlie through the sleeping town, out to the bush clearing he calls home. And there Charlie sees a terrible thing. Laura (Elizabeth Blackmore), the shire president's eldest daughter, hanging from a rope. Jasper's rope.
Silvey's story thereafter is tense, sad, and awful but shot through with the resilience of youth, the wellsprings of courage and the glory of love. Its veins run with sweetness and humour.
It reminds you of fine things: David Lynch’s Twin Peaks and Raymond Carver’s So Much Water So Close To Home, of To Kill a Mockingbird and Huck Finn, of Don DiLillo’s Pafko at the Wall.
(The scene where the Vietnamese boy Jeffrey, played by Xoa Xuande, wins a cricket game in the last over was the best depiction of batting I've seen on stage. Silvey, a cricket tragic, deserves an extra credit for impromptu coaching.)
Kate Mulvany's skilful adaptation adds stagecraft to Silvey's novel, and Sheedy brings their work to life with surety and not a little inspiration. There's inspiration, too, in Michael Scott-Mitchell's design, from the simple, sinister line drawing of the old tree that dominates the set to the mound of blue gravel that becomes a cricket pitch and, in a brilliant collaboration with lighting designer Trent Suidgeest, the dam in which the boys hide their secret.
Beck is a Clark Kent who finds his inner Superman, and Cook and Blackmore (who plays both Laura and her younger sister Eliza) are magnetic. Xuande, a second-year WAAPA student, plays Jeffrey with marvellous elan.
Memorable, too, is Humphrey Bower who, apart from Alexandra Jones as Charlie's wayward mother, plays all the adults: Charlie's dad, the bully Warwick Trent and, brilliantly, the recluse Mad Jack Lionel.
With the success of the original novel and this terrific production, and with a film version on the cards, Jasper Jones is our next Cloudstreet. It loses nothing by the comparison.
Tickets have gone on sale to two extra performances (July 29 and August 4, both at 7pm). The season ends on August 9.