Picnic at Hanging Rock, a new play by Tom Wright, based on the novel by Joan Lindsay,
Heath Ledger Theatre, State Theatre Centre of WA
Black Swan Theatre Company & The Malthouse

picnic 1Even if you are one of the very few who does not know the story behind Picnic at Hanging Rock, the foreboding gun metal grey set instantly sets the feeling that something bad is about to happen here.

Melbourne born Tom Wright has done a fine job at keeping the dark and haunting feeling of Joan Lindsay’s 1967 Australian classic. Wright’s words are an eerie delight to hear, beautifully brought to life by the five talented actors.

With clever direction from Perth’s Matthew Lutton , you are taken on a 90 minute journey of the mysterious Valentine’s Day outing to Hanging Rock by the Appleyard Girls School.

Unconventional in its approach, the actors speak directly to the audience for most part of the first 20 minutes and they paint the backdrop to the classic story of the missing schoolgirls with subtlety and strength playing perfectly with Lindsay and Wright’s crafted words.

A more conventional theatre style comes back into play as Miranda, Irma, Marion and Mrs McCraw go missing.

Lutton’s ability at building tension is superb via clever use of staging, a terrific soundscape by J. David Franzke ( the sound of leaves underfoot as the girls walk over Hanging Rock is spine tingling)along with haunting composition by Ash Gibson Greig. They all combine spectacularly for a beautiful eerie filmic style experience. Scene changes are particularly effective.

picnic 2The set by Zoe Atkinson is simple but effective and is perfectly complimented by Paul Jackson’s superb lighting design.
Angular panelled walls with a classic turn of the century wardrobe, all the one shade of gun metal grey, gives the space a baron and cold atmosphere. The stage floor is cleverly covered with a velour like carpet that not only masks the sounds of the expertly timed blackout scene changes, but gives the illusion of foot prints in the bush tracks of Hanging Rock.

But the star of the set is the giant mass of sticks and branches hanging above the stage, hovering like a dark cloud, complimenting perfectly the darkness of the piece.

Picnic 3The five actors, Harriet Gordon-Anderson, Arielle Gray, Amber McMahon, Elizabeth Nabben and Nikki Shiels, each playing multiple characters, give a wonderful demonstration of ensemble performance. Each of the captivating scenes is a testament to their talents as fine young actors.

I don’t think I have ever seen a production with such brilliant stage management – slick and faultless. Congratulations to Stage Manager Tai Clark and crew.

With every full length play in one act, there is always the fear of losing the audience, but this production did not miss a beat. Upon leaving the theatre I heard an audience member ask ‘How can a live theatre production, make you feel so uneasy’?
And this fine piece of theatre did just that, you walk away with a sense of unnerving apprehension.

A magnificent theatrical experience

Photo credit: Pia Johnson