Whatever else you can accuse Belvoir of, they always seem to bring things back home when they've got a family show to deliver. And this year's production of Craig Silvey's novel is more or less a family show (albiet ones with some fairly dark themes). It's a coming of age story as a young boy in a WA country town discovers the dark secrets of his elders and of the place around him - how prejudice and boredom and petty hatreds make a toxic cocktail.
I'll admit I haven't read the novel so I can only say that Kate Mulvaney's adaptation is clear, funny, tense and heartfelt. If it does meander a scene or two longer than it possibly needs to, that may be partially a choice of focus - the title of the show is "Jasper Jones", but the play (and presumably, novel) is very much about the narrator. THere is, I suppose, a bigger question about why a story whose main dramatic hook is a half-caste boy involved in a murder needs to be so much about the white boy who watches it, but ... well, Belvoir's got an indigenous adviser in on this, so hopefully they know what they're doing.
As the narrator, Tom Conroy delivers a bookish 14 year old to perfection - shy, over-thoughtful, embarassed and eventually brave. I honestly did not realise this was the same actor I'd seen in Mortido two months ago, and the stark difference suggests Conroy is really an actor to watch out for in the future. Guy Simon's Jasper is a little distant but has that firm inner strength and conveys multiple layers of feeling when he finally spills over into anger. Charles Wu's Jeffrey has a radiantly funny hopefullness that is rarely shattered even in adverse circumstances. Matilda Ridgeway's delivery as both of the Wishart sisters is nicely complex - Laura is largely a silent figure of menace while Eliza is enticing, awkward and with an inner strenght that plays through. Steve Rodgers has a good pair of cameos both as a kindly father and a mysterious outsider, and writer Mulvaney also scores both as Charlie's stern but bewhildered mum and as the bullying cricketer Warwick.
Anne-Louise Sarks scores strongly in this (I'm beginnning to suspect my problems with her previous works were that she was doing writing duties as well or developing someone else's script- she's a strong director as long as she has a strong basic text to work with, less so when she's not). Michael Hankin's set works like all the best belvoir sets in being both decorative and simple, and giving the actors plenty of room to play.
All in all this is a fine piece of theatre that I suspect Belvoir will be looking to tour whenever possible - it's appealing, thoughtful and smartly specific.