“Miranda! Miranda!” You already know the chilling story. In fact, you can still hear the pan pipes, right? It’s probably safe to assume more have seen the movie than read the book. Which is why writer Tom Wright’s adaptation of Picnic at Hanging Rock for the Black Swan State Theatre Company leaves so much to the imagination; in the best way possible.
The stage is stark, the props minimal and apart from some sticks on stage, the “rock” itself is conspicuous by its absence. Based on the novel by Joan Lindsay you could be forgiven for thinking Picnic at Hanging Rock was actually based on a true story. Could it because of the ambiguous ending? Or that the crimes remain unsolved? It’s also feasible to be mistaken because the story itself offers a pseudo historical background which only helps to fuel the mystery. Lindsay also did little to neither confirm nor deny its authenticity. You’ll be relieved to know the story is in fact entirely fictional.
Wright’s and director Matthew Luton’s interpretative adaptation is in stark contrast to Peter Weir’s 1975 ethereal film. Famed for its white muslin dresses floating through the scrub, wispy blonde hair and dewy girls wistfully drowsy from the heat, the film is erotically taboo given the girls are on the cusp of womanhood.
The scene starts on Valentine’s Day 1900 at Appleyard College, a remote all-girls college, where the students set out on excursion to picnic at Hanging Rock. They appear to be in a dream-like state as watches stop ticking and time appears to stand still until three girls and a teacher collapse in a daze. They appear to enter a crack in the rock as though they’ve entered a time warp and vanish without a trace.
It’s classic storytelling at its finest and narrated by the five cast members Harriet Gordon-Anderson, Arielle Gray, Amber McMahon, Elizabeth Nabben and Nikki Shiels who play multiple roles. The interchanging roles between characters is intentionally confusing, much like the disappearance of Miranda, Marian, Irma and Miss McGraw.
There is hope when Irma returns physically unscathed, but with no recollection of the event, more questions are raised. The horror crescendos when another student named Sara is discovered dead and horribly contorted.
Vague assumptions are made as Sara is bullied throughout the play by her menacing headmistress Mrs Appleyard. And what about Michael who was also picnicking at the rock and was quite taken with Miranda? Or maybe the rock really did claim them?
Good luck cracking the crime. But if nothing else, it’ll send chills up your spine.
Picnic at Hanging Rock plays at the State Theatre Centre of WA 1st April – 17 April 2016