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Jasper Jones - Queensland Theatre

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by John Andrew (subscribe)
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Agatha Christie meets Tennessee Williams

The Year 12 student I chatted to at Jasper Jones told me that she was reading Craig Silvey's novel of the same name - "It's a set text" she said.

I'm glad, because the play, in your reviewer's opinion, bears comparison to Tennessee Williams in its depiction of a dusty middle-of-nowhere community (Corrigan, Western Australia) where many lead lives of quiet desperation.

We watch the coming of age of a naive kid, whose intelligence singles him out for abuse by his not over bright contemporaries, to whom any difference or any enthusiasm for learning is seen as a slight or a threat particularly if it is compounded by racism.

That searing and at times very funny depiction of life in a small remote outback community is married to an Agatha Christie-style whodunit.

Remember 1965? With remote Vietnam adding to the sense of threat, as Menzies' National Service makes most young men vulnerable while Test Cricket is god in remote Melbourne.

14-year-old Charlie Buctin disappears into the novels his remote father gives him. Until, that is, one midnight the community "bad boy" Jasper Jones taps on his window at midnight, and takes him to a secret spot in the bush outside town, where they meet a terrible and life-changing sight - a dead girl, for whose death, if discovered, Jasper knows he will be blamed.

Six actors juggle a dozen parts demanding quick changes and seamless timing. Which we get as the plot develops, and we learn more about the strategies our characters use to inject some kind of meaning into their drab surroundings.

The stylised set design where a couple of front verandahs on a revolving stage become Charlie's home, a neighbour's place, and the derelict house of the feared "Mad Jack" Lionel. In the middle is the scene of a cricket match which had the audience clapping and cheering.

For this play is by no means unrelieved gloom: Charlie's awakening sexuality, for instance, is depicted with affection and wry humour.

But this is no sentimental "she'll be right" society, and its corrupt police, casually overt racism and stiflingly narrow horizons ask hard questions about what kind of people we were then, what kind of people we are now, and what kind of society that year 12 student in the audience can look forward to.

This is an uncomfortably good play.
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Why? a unique opportunity
When: until August 18th
Where: Lyric Theatre QPAC
Cost: $56 - $88
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