It is 1900, and for a group of Australian schoolgirls, a romantic Valentine’s Day outing ends in an intriguing mystery. What has happened to the three seniors and the mathematics teacher on top of the jagged peaks of Hanging Rock?
Based on the 1967 historical novel, this exciting play explores a baffling disappearance which takes its toll on a small community in the Australian countryside.
Actor Kara Swift plays Miranda, one of the ill-fated Appleyard College girls. Swift was attracted to the play because of the story and the intrigue therein. "Everyone has their own interesting version of what happened up at the rock. I wanted to investigate and explore my own," she says.
"We know that Miranda comes from the country and really knows her way around the bush but she doesn't have a strong back -story that is stated. We don’t even find out her last name This meant I really had to use the clues from the text – what she says and what other people say about her in order to create her previous life. That has been a big learning curve."
Swift describes Miranda as wise for her years and very intuitive. "She is the senior at Mrs. Appleyard’s College and I think in a way she is the glue that holds the girls together," explains Swift. "She has a strong individual connection with all the girls and the teachers at the school. People are drawn to her. My favourite thing about her is how precise she is with her words. She chooses them wisely and knows exactly what she wants to say, a skill I would like to acquire. I see her as being quite light and soft. I move a lot faster and am probably less graceful than Miranda, so lot’s of work has to be done there!"
The novel was a runaway best seller. Written in the form of a true story, it grips from the very start as it incorporates paranormal elements to heighten the mystery which remains unsolved. Cleverly, author Joan Lindsay offers no explanation about the disappearances leaving the reader and audience to devise their own solution. Swift agrees and feels that the thing that is most powerful about the play is all the questions it leaves people with. "It raises many issues such as British colonization of Australia, sexual repression with references to St Valentines day, fatalism but there is no wrap up or nice neat ending, which challenges audience and encourages them to think about such things and use their own imaginations," she says.
The production house, Purely Pensive Productions, was formed in 2005 and is renowned for producing high quality, non-professional, theatre. The company produces one to two performance seasons annually and, like some theatres, do not have a permanent performance space. Swift explains some of the challenges involved with this: "Probably the biggest challenge we have had is trying to figure out and rehearse with the correct staging. Not rehearsing in the space where it will be performed is always a bit of challenge but especially in this play as the rock is the main feature. It has been overcome through imagination and visiting the rock as a group. We were able to remember the feeling that we had there and then transfer it to our rehearsal room."
Visiting the site is also an excellent way to capture the mood and Australian sensibility of the piece. Says Swift: "I think we all want to it to be as true to the time and story as possible. We're hoping this will be achieved through a lot of period research and character exploration in rehearsals."
Swift comes to the piece with a fine pedigree having graduated from the Full – time acting Howard Fine Acting course last year. Before that she attended regular scene study classes with Bruce Alexander at Melbourne Acting Studio with short films having been a focus for the last couple of years. Swift finished a web series last year, which is currently in post production. She is, she says, excited to be doing a play.
Picnic at Hanging Rock is a delicate look at crisis, greed and honesty at the turn of the century.
Swift encourages all to attend adding: "It's being performed at a great space. The staging will be awesome and everyone has worked really hard to bring this classic Australian story to life… and you might even find out what really happened that day. People really shouldn't miss out."
June 26 – June 28
Mechanics Institute Corner of Sydney and Glenlyon Roads, Brunswick