Posts Tagged ‘anna cordingly

08
Aug
18

Jasper Jones

 

Jasper Jones

Queensland Theatre & MTC

QPAC Playhouse

August 3 – 18 2018

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

THIS IS WHAT HAPPENED……………

 

In the sizzling summer of 1965, a bookish 14 year-old boy flees from the boredom and bullying of small-town life by burying himself in stories of epic adventure. He never thought he’d find himself living one. Charlie Bucktin lives in a tiny, insignificant bush town where nothing happens. Nothing, that is, until Jasper Jones stumbles upon a gruesome crime out by the dam. Who else would he call on for help but the sharpest kid around?

 

A midnight tap at Charlie’s window sparks a race to solve a murder and clear Jasper’s name.

 

JASPER JONES IS AT MY WINDOW

 

A superb re-staging of the MTC production, adapted by Kate Mulvany and directed by Sam Strong, this Jasper Jones will satisfy. Brisbane’s opening night audience leapt to their feet, in the stalls at least, not even waiting for the final moment to sink in, in appreciation of the talent on stage and off. This tends to happen on opening night! And sometimes it’s best to see a different performance, once the season has started. With a stellar cast and creative team, Strong’s telling of Craig Silvey’s darkly disturbing small town story of intolerance, abuse, suspicion and suicide, is made surprisingly light and broadly appealing. It’s chilling in its true-crime flavour, but a distinctly Australian sense of humour prevails, both in the book and on stage, largely due to Kate Mulvany’s instinctive adaptation.

 

 

I miss the underlying moodiness of the novel at times and the eerie sense that a constructed eucalyptus forest on stage might bring to the live performance, with moonlight shining through branches rather than, as it is here, sensibly, through a fast and functional scrim, which is flown in and out to change our location in an instant, wasting no time to take us to the scene of an unspeakable crime, a place that’s so special to the titular character. The scrim has its place and yet it’s my least favourite aspect of the Helpmann Award winning design, which has come from the incredible imagination of Anna Cordingly, incorporating water and using tiny houses set around the outer edge of a revolve to bring to life the insular town of Corrigan. The revolve and the actors’ excellent timing allow for seamless transitions between scenes and brings some of the pivotal action centrestage, to the cricket pitch, the town’s common ground. Matt Scott’s inspired lighting states and Darrin Verhagen’s bushland soundscape help to transport us back in time and out of the city to a typical Australian town. This creative team’s close attention to detail, from the street lights to the gutters, to the louvres to the sandals and to the dirt beneath them, may have you convinced that this is in fact your place, your childhood neighbourhood. 

 

I spoke with someone recently again about the importance of memory, personal associations and adding scent to the live theatre experience to support a properly multi-sensory way into a story – remember, we’d diffused rose oil during our La RondeErotique and Diabolique, and then there was the breakfast cooking offstage during Neil Armfield’s Summer of the Seventeenth Doll – anyway, without it being incorporated in the design, during Jasper Jones I could nevertheless smell the eucalyptus, the wattle, the creek, and the dust of Stringybark Road. It’s always amusing to see the look on students’ faces at school when I start a story with, “Before this school was built…” or “Before this road went through…” and watch their eyes widen before one of them invariably asks, “How old ARE you, Miss?”

 

 

Nicholas Denton’s embodiment of Charlie Bucktin is one of the most searingly honest, and sensationally funny physical performances we’ve seen on this stage in a long time. It’s an endearing performance, his ability to go from awkward and gangly to grown up, wise and worldly within seconds giving us a sense of an old soul in an adolescent body. His love of literature feeds his reality and his relationships, and helps us navigate our way through the mystery as he narrates. It’s through the use of gesture and the manipulation of spatial relationships that we gain additional insight into Charlie’s world, and the people inhabiting it. That comment obviously for the students… Denton takes special care as Charlie, to establish a lovely, awkward, guarded rapport with his strikingly beautiful, strong and stubborn mother, Ruth, the sensational Rachel Gordon. In this role she is somehow a symbol of the era’s frustrations and feelings of isolation, sharing repressed rage and grief, and personifying a similar lingering discontent and sense of disempowerment to Carita Farrar Spencer’s poignant performance in Ladies in Black. I feel like she’s every woman before me, and also me. Charlie also has some weightier moments with his dull and detached, determined-to-do-better father, Wesley. A sensitive Ian Bliss, with just a dash of Doug Hastings/Barry Otto, complete with shameless combover, earns our sympathy and eventually, our admiration too. 

 

 

YOU GOTTA’ GET BRAVE

 

Shaka Cook is a real, raw, intriguing and engaging Jasper Jones. Like a hunted, haunted animal, his vulnerability lies, barely visible, beneath the surface of a tough act that’s become his habitual behaviour. Cook beautifully underplays the complexity and sustains the edgy energy of a thing about to pounce or run away. By the same token he has a languidness about him, unnerving Charlie and suggesting to us that, in possession of this juxtaposition, he might just be the coolest guy in school these days, as opposed to the scapegoat dropout. The unlikely friendship between Jasper and Charlie is handled sensitively, keeping all the nuances intact; it’s a joy to witness this relationship, and their mutual respect, develop before our eyes. 

 

The less subtle friendship is between Charlie and Jeffrey Lu, an animated, dynamic performance by Hoa Xuande, hilarious and at times, heartbreaking. I do wonder if the others were warned during rehearsals that he might steal the show. Melanie Zanetti is exquisitely ageless, playing both the ghost of Laura and her little sister, Eliza, who is very much alive, and coquettishly bold and cute, until her complete unravelling, which also undoes us a little bit. Hayden Spencer, as well as contributing the satisfying thwack! of the cricket ball as Jeffrey finally gets his moment in the sun/on the crease, lets loose as Mad Jack Lionel, Corrigan’s biggest mystery and apparently, most obvious murderer. His truth is revealed beautifully, compellingly, and completely believably, adding rich context to the themes of secrets, lies, love, family and forgiveness.

 

 

Silvey’s novel is a contemporary classic and Mulvany’s stage adaptation, directed by Sam Strong, could tour forever under the same banner, such is its unblinking look into human nature, connection and communication, and the prevailing attitudes of 1960s Australia, which haven’t necessarily changed very much, have they? I love the seemingly low-tech approach, the attention to detail, the unhurried moments spent in Jasper’s sheltered, secret glade, the musings and laughter and delight of the friends, and the days spent outside sans digital devices, as well as the look inside Charlie’s head, and through him, the remarkable insight we gain into the humans that surround him, and that surround us. With the astuteness of To Kill a Mockingbird, the kooky humour of The Goonies, and the casual, lasting impact of Stand by Me, Jasper Jones is easily my favourite Queensland Theatre production this year…perhaps until the final two.

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