Picnic at Hanging Rock

Picnic at Hanging Rock
Saturday 14th January, The Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh.
Reviewed by Laura Hounsell

 

Matthew Lutton’s vision of Picnic at Hanging Rock adapted by Tom wright from Joan Lindsay’s 1966 novel of the same title opens with the five actresses evenly spaced on the stage addressing the audience. In turns they narrate the story of four school girls and their teacher who disappear on a visit to Hanging Rock in 1900. Dressed in the uniform of a modern day private school, their navy blazers and straw sunhats creating five bold shapes against the dark scenery. They speed though their lines, taking confident strides towards the audience and the great Hanging Rock they describe. The Victorian ideals of colonial England quickly become a theme, yet, the girls are not the meek young ladies which their school mistress Miss Appleyard is determined to create, they are adventurous and curious. similares al viagra colombia Initially, it is only their bare legs in schoolgirl white socks which betray their vulnerability in the unfamiliar and unforgiving Australian landscape.

 

The opening scene becomes somewhat stagnant despite the actress’s impressive vocal energy. However, after recounting the tale as if in the distant past, the girls begin to move and it quickly becomes difficult to know whether they are telling the story, or are a part of it. Using their voices and the occasional change into period costume, the actresses convincingly portray multiple roles of different genders and ages to present the aftermath and impact of the disappearance on Miss Appleyard and her pupils.

 

The overriding theme of the play is the oppressive and blinkered attitude of the British colonisers towards the Australian landscape and its people. The climate and wildlife around Hanging Rock are constant sources of fearful contempt. Miss Appleyard is a caricature of Victorian Englishness as she crushes the creativity and curiosity of her female pupils. Most painful to watch are the scenes in which she torments the orphaned Sara whose traumatic childhood she dismisses as lies. Whilst these scenes are largely, and at times frustratingly, static, the shapes into which Sara (Arielle Gray) contorts her little body under the strain of her oppression make them as uncomfortable to watch as they are to listen to. However, Sara’s tragic narrative becomes lost in the threads of the mystery, the pathos she brings detracts from the suspense of the disappearance.

 

Equally, in the lines and indeed the program, one of the disappeared girls ‘Miranda’, is talked of at length, she becomes almost mythical, the object of the infatuations of both Sara and the young Englishman who becomes entangled in the investigation. However, in the pace of the play and the multitude of strands in the plot Miranda’s significance, like Sara’s, becomes confused and seems unfounded. This happens regularly, it becomes difficult to differentiate between the girls as they are mentioned which is unfortunate; evidently, they were intended to have quite distinct characteristics.

 

The pupils left behind after the picnic make conspicuously rare appearances, yet the devastating impact of the disappearance is manifested in what becomes one of the most memorable scenes of the play. When Irma (Nikki Sheils) returns from the rock alive but unable to solve the mystery, her classmates cannot contain their distress descend into violent hysteria; they physically attack her, becoming animalistic as they tear at her clothes and shriek.

 

The girls of Appleyard College are trapped into their narrative by the suffocating ideals of their school mistress and physically are trapped by the three dark, imposing walls of Zoë Atkinson’s set. The stage remains empty of scenery but for the occasional chair. Suspended at the back of the stage, above the wall, in a nod to the Australian landscape, is a disappointingly-unimposing, large bundle of twigs. Cleverly, entrances and exits in the set are obscured which allows the actresses to appear and disappear with haunting seamlessness and heightens the tension in blackouts.

 

The story of the picnic is undeniably terrifying and in places the play succeeds in being so. Ash Gibson Greig’s music, whilst typically horror-movie-like, creates tangible tension in scenes with even the most inoffensive lighting.

 

Lutton’s production presents its story and themes with sensitivity, it is slick, well-acted and at times genuinely haunting. However, too much of play and plot relies on hints and fleeting allusions; one leaves feeling confused. Not, as would be anticipated about the fate of the disappeared girls, but about who they were and how their lives fitted into those of the classmates and teachers they left behind.

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