It’s a rare gift as a writer to be given the chance to adapt one of the nation’s best-loved books. A gift… and a fearsome challenge. Because everyone has their own ‘favourite bit’ of Jasper Jones that is seared into their memory like they actually lived it.
‘I hope you got the cricket match in!’ ‘Please don’t leave out the superheroes – Batman is best.’ ‘How are you gonna fit the entire town of Corrigan on a stage?!’
My own ‘favourite bits’ shift and expand every single time I dip into the pages of the book Jasper Jones. Pulling apart Craig Silvey’s masterful text has been an incredible joy. Both Craig and I hail from country Western Australia. We carry the sense memory of towns like Corrigan in our bones. The incredible characters that blow in and out, like an afternoon southerly. The pillars and politics of those small-town communities. The melting pot of cultures that call these pastoral industrial dustbowls home, and gift their stories to wide-eyed, eavesdropping, bookish scribblers like me, Craig… and Charlie Bucktin himself.
We can learn the ways of the world from these small communities, these contained universes. They are a petri dish of the bigger picture. The ails of society are often magnified in small towns, but so are the cures. The shared experience of a community, of listening to each others’ stories with an open mind and empathetic ear, is what these towns can do best and what we can all do better.
This generosity of communal spirit has become apparent in the rehearsal room too. The text being performed tonight is different to the one that premiered in Perth a couple of years ago. It’s even different to what was performed at the last Belvoir season! Since then, Jasper Jones has had a season at the Melbourne Theatre Company too. With different creative teams comes shifting perspectives, so these have been carefully and lovingly weaved into each performance text. The ‘favourite bits’ remain, but more importantly, aspects of the text recalibrate with what is going on in our real world. Fearful political upheavals in the modern world may present themselves in a new line in the play. Or a line from Craig Silvey’s book that may not have been used in the play a few seasons ago is now introduced with potent new meaning
The rehearsal room for any production of Jasper Jones always becomes a playground of memory and experience. Memories of childhood, memories of family, memories of Australian summers, of Indigenous elders and Vietnamese grandparents. Of ‘that time Mum and Dad stopped talking’ and the way ‘my childhood crush still makes my heart flutter when she likes my posts on Facebook’. It is such a treat to take on these lived memories from actors, directors, designers and infuse their energy into the play. I hope the foyer is buzzing afterwards with your own childhood tales of hitting a six in the backyard and the time you snuck into the haunted house on the edge of town. (Exaggerate away. It makes it more fun.)
I don’t want to go into what Jasper Jones is trying to say as a play. It’s saying everything or nothing, depending on what you choose to hear. But for me, adapting Jasper Jones has been like taking a wander through my own childhood – the good parts and the bad – and realising just how much, and how little, things have changed. How far we have come and how far we still have to go. In the words of Jasper Jones himself: we gotta get brave.
I’d like to thank all of the incredible casts, crews and audiences of Jasper Jones – Black Swan, MTC and Belvoir – for their faith in Australian storytelling; Anne-Louise Sarks for her gloriously driven curiosity, insight and care on the Belvoir production; John Sheedy for putting the book in my hands a few years back and giving me a gift that just keeps on giving; and Craig Silvey for not only giving us this wonderful Australian story, but allowing and encouraging me to put a little of myself into the play.
Enjoy your trip to Corrigan. Look after each other.