Playwright Kate Mulvany makes the difficult task of condensing Craig Silvey’s 404 page award winning novel into a two act play seem effortless in Barking Gecko Theatre Company’s latest offering, Jasper Jones. Engaging – due in no small part to some outstanding performances – Jasper is equal parts Gothic, thriller, drama and comedy. It tells the tale of Charlie Bucktin (James Beck), a self-proclaimed nerd who lives vicariously through the novels he feverishly consumes until Jasper Jones (Shaka Cook) the town outcast, summons Charlie from his room and into early adulthood. What follows is a coming of age story about loss, prejudice, resilience and despondence, which at its heart raises questions of complicity and responsibility.
Sound designer Ben Collins draws on his eclectic experience to create a score that is hauntingly ethereal and edgy, showcasing his mastery of composition, which when combined with Michael Scott-Mitchell’s set design, creates the sense of a town divided. Audiences are instantly drawn into Jasper’s dark and threatening world, invited to empathize with the only ‘half caste’ trying to fly under the radar in a small mining town in 1965, as we voyeuristically peer through Charlie’s window into his safe, seemingly ordered world. Scott-Mitchell’s clever minimalist set design allows performers to shine, with the stage consisting of a boxed in room viewed through slatted windows, the white outline of a tree etched on a black backdrop and a pile of blue sand which is used to create a well, shrubbery and a cricket pitch. Although the use of a blue peach tree to represent Mad Jack Lionel’s, Corrigan’s mystery man’s house was perhaps not as symbolic as intended, looking at times like a model of the earth’s solar system when viewed under blue light.
Whilst Jasper Jones tackles some heavy issues, it is lined with enough laugh out loud humour and optimism to avoid being macabre. Characters skilfully catapult from despair to bravery with each character using their circumstances as an impetus to ‘be brave,’ making courage an overriding theme. Worldly scape goat Jasper continuously prompts 14 year old Charlie to ‘get brave’ whilst Charlie and his best friend Jeffery (Hoa Xuande) discuss the merits of various super heroes, surmising that “if you know a bullet can’t hurt you, it’s not brave to stand in front of it.” Other characters wilfully deny their agency, resigning themselves to some notion of fate and absolving themselves from guilt as they eerily repetitively sing Que Sera. This is the key to the success of Jasper: moments of absolute darkness are lightened by the innocence and awkwardness of youth.
Under the intuitive direction of John Sheedy, an extremely talented cast including second year WAAPA student Hoa Xande as the cricket loving Vietnamese Jeffrey Lu, Elizabeth Blackmore as the tragic Wishart sisters, Alexandra Jones as the grieving Mrs Bucktin and Humphrey Bower as a host of eccentric characters, coupled with an equally talented crew make Jasper Jones a stand out classic. Unfortunately Barking Gecko sold out their season before opening night, although two extras dates have been added due to demand, get in quick, as this performance is not to be missed.
JESSICA ZOE ALLEN
Jasper Jones Runs until August 9 at the state theatre centre. Go to Barking Gecko for more information.