Hugo Weaving, Toni Collette, Rachel Perkins and Kate Mulvany are just a handful of the 170,000 people who have been captivated by the story of Jasper Jones, the young Aboriginal kid who shows up at Charlie Bucktin’s window one hot summer’s night with a terrible secret.
This year there will be two stage adaptations and a feature film starring Weaving and Collette directed by Perkins, all based on Perth writer Craig Silvey’s stunning second novel, Jasper Jones.
Released in 2009 in 30 different countries, Jasper Jones is set in the fictional Western Australian town of Corrigan. It is a coming-of-age story about 13-year-old Charlie, whose life is forever changed the night Jones takes him deep into the bush and shows him something he can never forget. The book tackles everything from racism to first love and dark family secrets. But despite its serious core, Silvey delivers it all with a touching and gentle humour.
The book has been widely acclaimed, championed as “Australia’s To Kill A Mockingbird” by The Monthly. The West Australian called it, “Our next Cloudstreet”. It was shortlisted for the 2010 Miles Franklin Literary Award.
Nevertheless, Silvey seems bemused by the extraordinary interest in taking his story beyond the page.
“When I’m developing a story all I think about are the characters that inhabit it, the language I’m using and where it’s headed. You tend to focus on the things you can control rather than the smoky components that come afterwards,” Silvey says. He is in Sydney working with Belvoir on its new production.
Silvey’s good friend and fellow Western Australian Kate Mulvany was approached to adapt the book for stage by the former artistic director of Perth theatre company Barking Gecko, John Sheedy, for his 2014 production.
Since then both Belvoir and the Melbourne Theatre Company have programmed her adaptation. The multi-talented actor-writer-director (who also stars in Belvoir’s show) says she was captivated by the book’s nostalgic snapshot of life in suburban Australia that still forces a contemporary audience to consider their role in society.
“There’s that lovely misty feeling when you read something set in the ‘60s, especially when you see it on stage and you see the dresses and wigs and the way people hold themselves. But you also realise things haven’t changed much and it’s up to us to make those social changes that should actually have happened back then.”
For Silvey, the chance to write his first screenplay has been a rewarding and educational experience, although it has delayed the release of his highly anticipated third novel that is set around a carnival in Fremantle in the 1920s.
“I’ve been the victim of all these very, very pleasant distractions, so it’s a bit behind schedule, but for quite wonderful reasons,” Silvey says.
Jasper Jones is directed by Anne-Louise Sarks is playing at Belvoir until February 7.
The feature film is due for release in 2016.