Picnic At Hanging Rock – A Dark Australian Tale

The Observatory Theatre’s latest production, Picnic at Hanging Rock brings Joan Lindsay’s haunting and iconic novel to life through Tom Wright’s reimagining of this dark, uniquely Australian tale.  Emerging artistic talent Lachlan Driscoll has created an impressive theatrical experience that successfully captures the essence of mystery and intrigue central to Lindsay’s story. 

The laser focus of Driscoll and his team in delivering a high-quality production is evident in the attention to detail accorded to the set and sound design which transports the audience straight into country Victoria in 1900 and Appleyard College, a private school for girls where we meet the students, the school mistresses, and servants.

A dark sense of foreboding swirls as we join these disparate characters who are drawn irrevocably into the eerie world of the Rock and their fate.  We feel the mid-afternoon heat, torpor, and rugged dangerous beauty of the Australian bush as the story builds towards the fateful picnic and, then the discordant, crashing horror of the aftermath.  Each scene is carefully crafted with the actors, beautifully choreographed, maintaining the energy and pace to drive the evocative narrative forward.

Tom Wright’s adaption of this story is unique.  It shines a light into the dark corners of the world inhabited by these young Australian women, constrained and constricted under the expectations of a culture fully informed by the British “motherland”; the accepted and expected way of life in the “outpost of Empire” that was pre-Federation Australia.  This jars deliciously and discordantly with the ancient and seemingly unknowable Australian landscape exemplified by the Rock. 

The wonderfully talented cast is given much to work with and they take full advantage.  Malika Savory’s nuanced execution of Sara brings the fragility of this vulnerable girl to life and her scenes with the “Headmistress from Hell”, Mrs Appleyard (adeptly portrayed by Libby Harrison) deliver a masterclass in powerful performance.

As Albert Crundall, the Coachman, Leah Fitzgerald-Quinn sets the tone for this seemingly simple yet interestingly complex character.  Albert’s common, sometimes crass but practical nature appears at odds with his bold acts of bravery and Fitzgerald-Quinn brings a laconic “Australian-ness” to deliver believability to this spectrum.

When picnic survivor Irma Leopold meets with Michael Fitzhubert, the young Englishman haunted by the girls’ fate, over a polite afternoon tea, both Jules Broun (Irma) and Téa Paige (Michael) strike the right note of poignancy and fear as Irma and Michael struggle to remember, and also to forget their experiences at Rock within this strained and constrained formal ceremony.

The Observatory Theatre’s production of Picnic at Hanging Rock is much more than a stock retelling of a well-loved tale which ponders the blurred lines between truth and fiction.  It successfully pays homage to the haunting legacy of the original story and offers new perspectives.

Balancing innovation whilst maintaining faithfulness to the source material ensures those of us still having nightmares from Peter Weir’s unsettling 1975 film adaption of the story, and those of us who are new to the tale, are equally satisfied.

Put this one on your must-see list.  With 10% off at Slipstream Brewing on presentation of your ticket you’d be mad not to enjoy the supernatural shivers, and a calming beverage afterwards. 

Performances nightly at Studio 1 Yeerongpilly on Friday 18, Saturday 19 and Sunday 20 August with 3pm Matinee performances on both Saturday and Sunday.

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