Picnic at Hanging Rock | Malthouse TheatrePhotos – Pia Johnson

Taking such an iconic piece from our Australian bookshelf and film history and transferring it to the stage is no small feat. For those who know and respect either of the aforementioned the expectations are high, and this production delivers on a few levels. It’s a slick, tight performance with jarring, jagged edges that satisfyingly spring out at you from the pitch black.

Set on Valentine’s Day in 1900, Picnic at Hanging Rock is the haunting tale of three schoolgirls (Miranda, Irma, and Marion) and their teacher (Miss McCraw) who go missing on a highly anticipated school outing to Victoria’s Hanging Rock. This mysterious and chilling event is the catalyst for the proceeding action in the piece as the school and wider community action a search, and then slowly come to terms with what has happened.

Tom Wright’s adaptation of Joan Lindsay’s novel for this production successfully hits all the key markers within the tale. The language is lyrical and handsome, especially in the opening scene as the audience are taken from go to woe on that fateful day. It’s stellar storytelling, relayed by an incredibly able cast of women in a multitude of roles.

This production really is a technically superior one, and credit must be given to the cast (Harriet Gordon-Anderson, Arielle Gray, Amber McMahon, Elizabeth Nabben, and Nikki Shiels) for navigating the scene changes so masterfully. It adds immensely to the flow and energy of the work and the tension is always clean cut, leaving the audience emerging from the black ready and engaged with what’s about to happen next. Director Matthew Lutton has brought together a strong ensemble for this piece, and all the women effectively drive the story forward.

There were a couple of elements of the piece, however, that seemed out of sorts. Like the fact it’s set in the original timeframe of the 1900s yet Benny Benassi’s Satisfaction rips into the space at one point with no rhyme or reason? It was an axe through the work that had been done to that point to establish the world of the play. It’s not a deal breaker – it was just an odd choice.  

The beauty of the story of Picnic at Hanging Rock is that it calls upon people’s imagination to make sense of it. Which is a powerful thing. The imagination is one of the greatest tools an arts maker can tap into with an audience, as imagination will most often create some horror that far outweighs what could be served up on stage. 

Matthew Lutton’s created a really great piece of theatre here. With a bit of a Blair Witch vibe, heart stopping moments, and unanswered questions it’s made this well known story accessible for people who know it, people who don’t, and a younger generation of new theatre goers. Will you leave having learnt some profound lesson? Probably not. Will you have been entertained by a great show that ticks a lot of boxes? Absolutely.

Malthouse Theatre and Black Swan State Theatre Company present 
Picnic at Hanging Rock
Adapted by Tom Wright from Joan Lindsay’s novel

Directed by Matthew Lutton

Venue: Malthouse Theatre – Merlyn Theatre
Dates: 26 February – 20 March 2016
Bookings: www.malthousetheatre.com.au