As some of you may know I am a big fan of Craig Silvey’s ‘Jasper Jones’. When I discovered that the Belvoir Theatre in Sydney did a play adaptation of ‘Jasper Jones’, of course, I nearly lost my shit because I love plays and I love this story.
In a nutshell, it’s basically an Australian version of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. I’m not fond of reducing it to this description (even though this was how it was described to me) because it takes away the complexity and the depth. I hope this novel becomes a modern Australian classic.
I’ve never seen a play adaptation before of a book so I wasn’t sure what to expect. When you see plays, you go for the ambience and the experience, as much as you do for the story. Therefore, unlike movies:
- There’s a casting problem because you need the actors there day and night, and children need to, you know, go to school, and this story has a high school protagonist.
- You can only have one setting. Which is fine if it’s something like ‘Twelve Angry Men’ but if the story shifts between sites and relies on the landscape as part of the plot, it’s going to be problematic. But this means if the production is clever, they can utilise the entire area, even where the audience is sitting, to maximise audience participation.
- There’s also a budget problem. Unlike movies, plays dont have a lot of money to play with, unless you’re the Sydney Opera House.
- You lose a lot of the descriptions and the internal monologues of characters and Charlie Bucktin, the main lead, has a lot of thoughts.
- Plays rely heavily on the actors’ interactions with each other to set the scene, the story and their relationship with one another. There’s no lingering shots between characters, no cut aways; the production relies purely on the actors to drive the story.
- It’s also essentially live so there are no do-overs if the actors mess up (as one of the actors discovered when he accidentally knocked over the wicket).
With all these factors in mind, I was both apprehensive and excited for the play.
And I loved it! The play was very loyal to the original plot, not just in terms of story line but in the key themes and morals. The play production was able to capture the essence of the play, down to the hypocrisy and the lies that infected Corrigan, the charming friendship between Jeffrey and Charlie, and Jasper’s strength.
Some of the phrases were copied word for word but this play was definitely not a homage to the novel but rather it encapsulated the atmosphere of ‘coming-of-age small town saga’ which is how adaptations should be.