Picnic at Hanging Rock started life as a book written by Joan Lindsay in 1967. Regarded as one of Australia’s finest novels, it is written as if it were a true story and so effective was this style that there remains much speculation as to whether it is so. The myth has been perpetuated in film and tv adaptations and I was keen to see how Tom Wright had adapted the complex story for stage.
The tale revolves around a Valentine’s Day school excursion in 1900 to a volcanic rock in the hinterland of Victoria, where three students and their teacher disappear, apparently swallowed by the landscape itself. Set in a time when England was attempting to tame the wild, harsh environment, often without consideration for its ancient history, there are many underlying themes of colonial guilt, class, adolescent sexual tension and abuse.
This is an ensemble piece and Director Geoff Brittain has assembled an excellent cast in Laura Antoniazzi, Gabi Douglas, Zanny Edhouse, Zoe Muller and Rhoda Sylvester. All are fine examples of the talented young artists that Adelaide is blessed with and it would be unfair to single one out. The script requires that all the girls transform from modern day private school girls retelling the story into a torrent of characters of mixed gender and age, with minimal costumes or props to assist them. On the whole they are successful, although at times the speed of the changes coupled with Wright’s compressed narrative do make it confusing, particularly so for those without prior knowledge of the book or film.
The space in the round Little Theatre is well utilised in the action, and the set is suitably sinister and eerie, complete with a rock face for the girls to climb. The lighting by Richard Parkhill is key to this production and the use of blackout and floor-based lighting ably assist the audience in differentiating locations and characters. The soundscape contains some excellent dramatic music composed by Kristin Stefanoff.
Not a ‘feel good’ piece, but excellent drama, well executed and challenging for the cast and audience alike.