Sunday, January 24, 2016

Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey, adapted for the stage by Kate Mulvaney

Guy Simon
Photo by Brett Boardman

Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey, adapted for the stage by Kate Mulvaney.  At Belvoir Street Upstairs, Sydney, January 6 – February 7, 2016.

Directed by Anne-Louise Sarks; Set Designer – Michael Hankin; Costume Designer –Mel Page; Lighting Designer – Matt Scott; Composer and Sound Designer – Steve Toulmin; Fight Choreographer – Scott Witt; Choreographer – Sara Black.  Indigenous Consultant – Jada Alberts.

Charlie Bucktin Tom Conroy
Mrs Bucktin / Warwick Kate Mulvaney
Laura Wishart / Eliza Wishart Matilda Ridgway
Mr Bucktin / Mad Jack Lionel Steve Rodgers
Jasper Jones Guy Simon
Jeffrey Lu Charles Wu

Reviewed by Frank McKone
January 23

Since it’s a very long time since I was a young adult (in fact the category didn’t even exist when I was that young), I went to Belvoir for the matinee unaware of Craig Silvey and his ‘iconic’ story with its referencing literature, especially Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, and full of what Kate Mulvaney calls ‘favourite bits’.  The audience, which included quite a number of today’s young adults, as well as many who used to be, not too long ago, there were obviously favourite bits all over the place.

My favourite bit was the ending, and how it was staged.  D H Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers was not specifically mentioned, but Jasper Jones in 1965 – like Paul Morel in 1913 – walks away from constriction towards distant lights representing a new life in the wider world.  The symbolism of an off-stage spotlight on Guy Simon’s beautifully characterised Jasper as he exits was obvious, and brought the play to a veritable explosion of audience enthusiasm in response.

Anne-Louise Sarks’ direction and Michael Hankin’s set design kept up a sparkling pace from the opening scene, with scene changes becoming part of the drama that built the audience response.  And the acting of all concerned was clear, precise and strong, with all the energy of young adults on display.

And yet I had an odd feeling, as Jasper left his boots, whisky and cigarettes on Charlie’s window sill, swung his empty rucksack over his shoulder and walked at full height into the light.  Where was he going, in 1965?  Towards the 1967 Referendum which at last gave recognition of Aboriginal people as citizens of the country they had owned since time immemorial?  Towards 2008, when Silvey wrote his novel, and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made his speech apologising to the Stolen Generations?  Towards 2016, when Reconciliation has still failed to give proper place to the original owners of this land in the Australian Constitution?

And towards today’s Australia where family men still abuse and cause the deaths of women  - every week – like Laura Wishart, daughter of the Corrigan Shire President?

Maybe, when the applause for the skilful adaptation and stage production of this novel had slackened off, I needed a reminder of Silvey’s theme – that the fictional town of Corrigan could be anywhere in Australia.  Then where could Laura Wishart and Jasper Jones go?  Then, or now?

Photos by Lisa Tomasetti

Tom Conroy as Charlie Bucktin

Tom Conroy as Charlie Bucktin and Charles Wu as Jeffrey Lu
Matilda Ridgway as Eliza Wishart

L to R: Jennifer Parsonage, Matilda Ridgway, Tom Conroy and Charles Wu
as cricketer, Eliza Wishart, Charlie Bucktin
and Jeffery Lu succeeding at cricket

Tom Conroy as Charlie and Kate Mulvaney as Mrs Bucktin
Steve Rodgers as Mr Bucktin and Tom Conroy as Charlie

Matilda Ridgway as Eliza Wishart and Tom Conroy as Charlie Bucktin
Matilda Ridgway as Eliza Wishart holding Laura Wishart's suicide note
Tom Conroy as Charlie and Kate Mulvaney as Mrs Bucktin
Steve Rodgers as Mad Jack Lionel
Tom Conroy as Charlie Bucktin and Guy Simon as Jasper Jones

Guy Simon and Tom Conroy
as Jasper Jones and Charlie Bucktin