Picnic at Hanging Rock by Katie Rogers and Rebecca Thomson
We truly had no idea what we were getting ourselves into as we entered the theatre. Both of us are of a very jittery nature and steer clear of anything and everything of the horror genre. However, we were both pleasantly surprised by the piece. “Picnic At Hanging Rock”, based on the book by Joan Lindsay, was thoroughly gripping and beautifully executed. It’s use of staging, sound, lighting and a talented cast all came together to create a chilling 90 minute piece of theatre that forced us to consider our importance in the world.
The play opened with five women in school uniforms telling the story of “Picnic at Hanging Rock” from the viewpoint of the girls and teacher who went missing there in 1900. The beginning was intense, the use of lighting and sound spectacular. The small, deliberate movements of the actors (during the opening segment and the entire play) built the tension and had you watching every actor as closely as possible so not to miss a single moment. However, although well done, the first scene seemed to drag on for too long. There’s only so long that an audience member can sit and watch five actors stand, mainly still, simply re-telling a tale. Although it’s easy to see where the company was going, aiming to build a tense atmosphere by drawing out the story, it felt that it did the opposite and had us waiting agonisingly for them to get to the point. Had it only been just a few minutes shorter we feel they would have managed to gain the effect that they craved, and overall improved the play entirely.
This however seemed to be one of the only glaring criticisms that we could muster on our walk back to the train station. In this performance, the good majorly outweighed the bad.
The use of an all-female cast stands out as a significant director’s choice. It creates this idea that we are all, in some way, like the girls who grew bored of their structured, schooled lives. We all feel that pull to the unknown and, scarily, we all are ruled by the omnipotent character that is Nature. At the end of the day, Nature is the only constant in our world. It was there when the Earth was created, and it will be there when the entire human race has become extinct. You leave “Picnic at Hanging Rock” questioning your own importance in the world.
What stood out to us the most in this production was not the acting, brilliant though it was, but the staging and technical aspects of the show. The ingenious use of an LED sign, similar to those found warning us of high winds on the A1, to blind the audience during set changes enhanced the pulls to black that were expertly used to show passing of time or just to give you a bit of a fright. The stage – a simple three walled room that seemed to have no entrances or exits – made you feel as though the characters were trapped, and the use of an enhanced rake on the floor made the room seem even smaller than it was. The Rock itself is never shown, but you can feel it’s spine-chilling presence in the dark corners of the stage.
The most hair-raising aspect of the show is the legend that lies behind it. “Picnic At Hanging Rock” is based upon real Australian folklore. However, there is little information available on the original myth and so this adaptation encourages the audience to put together their own ideas. Short, fragmented scenes full of flashbacks and dreams help us visualise the struggle to piece together the puzzle that is the disappearance of the girls.
“Picnic At Hanging Rock” is definitely not for the faint hearted. You leave the theatre feeling as though the spirits of the characters are stalking you home; forever watching you. And that is what makes this a successful piece of theatre. We could write so much more on how incredible this play was. About what the physical stage represents, about the satirical humour used within it, about the journey that the girls go on; but we don’t want to ruin it. So we’ll leave you with this instead; go and watch it. You’ll leave the theatre a different person, thoroughly shocked by what you have just seen, and desperate for more. Go; take a risk, step into the unown; leap into the abyss.