Jasper Jones at Queensland Theatre

Ahlia Karam | 4/08/2018

It was no surprise that the cast of Jasper Jones was sent off with a standing ovation.

This stage adaptation of Craig Silvey’s book by the same name was simply superb. Adapted by Kate Mulvany, we follow the coming of age mystery of two boys trying to solve a gruesome crime, the murder of Laura Wishart (Melanie Zanetti).


Jasper Jones, portrayed by Shaka Cook in the stage production, is in a race to clear his name. Seemingly the only boy of colour in this tiny Australian town, he ends up with taking the blame for nearly every unfortunate thing in the town’s history; not least of which being Laura’s murder. In hiding, on the run, he enlists the unsuspecting book worm Charlie Bucktin (Nicholas Denton) to help him not only clear his name, but find the real murderer before time runs out.

Queensland Theatre has really outdone themselves once again with this vibrant, immersive and compulsive adaptation. Anna Cordingley’s stage design beautifully portrays the dry dirt and weatherboard houses of 1965 inland Queensland. It’s like stepping into another world as you enter the theatre; a hard but communified world of simpler times.

 

This immersive set is aided spectacularly by the score. The scene transitions are seamless and with the help of composer Darrin Veragen the audience is sucked into the distinct realm that is the great Aussie outback.

 

It all serves as a backdrop to some incredible acting from some of the brightest Aussie talents in theatre today. Hayden Spencer as Mad Jack Lionel is wondorous, as is Rachel Gordon as Mrs Bucktin. But the real standouts here are the two co-leads in Charlie Bucktin and Jasper Jones. Shaka Cook brings an electric energy to his Jasper that infects the stage like an electric current every time he is on it, and Nicholas Denton brings a pathos that was never present in the recent film. It’s a combination of two world class performances that makes the production so endlessly watchable.


Now, a brief disclaimer. If you’re someone who will feel uncomfortable with racial slurs and homophobic insults, shown here as the norm in the 60’s, then this story isn’t for you. However, despite the vernacular, the audience from opening night couldn’t help but get caught up in the intelligent portrayal of the time that was the summer of ‘65. Director Sam Strong navigates the tropes and easy traps of portraying this period, delivering genuine warmth and affection while never over stifling the characters or story. His calm, assured handling of the material meant that there was laughter, gasps and maybe even some tears.

Conclusion

Beautifully cast, beautifully produced and a Charlie Bucktin full of fun, Jasper Jones is yet another triumphant Queensland Theatre production that will have you queueing up for the next one.