Presented by University of Adelaide Theatre Guild
Reviewed 6 October 2018
In a portrayal of the classic Australian book, Picnic at Hanging Rock brings to life the mystery of the fateful day that saw three young girls and their teacher go missing in the rough Australian bush.
It’s a hot, sunny Saint Valentine’s day in 1900’s Australia, and a group of young schoolgirls are lucky enough to leave Appleyard College, a private girls school near Melbourne, for a day trip to Hanging Rock. Some of the more adventurous girls decide to take a walk up towards the rock, lured by their youthful curiosity while their mathematics teacher, Miss McCraw, follows further behind. The day draws to an end and panic fills the air as, after scouring the rock and surrounding area, there is no sign of the missing girls or teacher with only one hysterical girl making it back down from the rock with no memory of what exactly happened.
The disappearance is reported back to the school’s tough headmistress, Mrs Appleyard, who tries to keep the disappearance under wraps, but fails. As the horrifying news spreads and more time passes without any sign of the girls (despite numerous organised searches of the area), rumours run wild about what’s happened leaving the community reeling in the horror of the disappearance. The world of Appleyard College and those who inhabit it is thrown into chaos as the great mystery of Hanging Rock consumes the private girls school with no explanation for the disappearance to be found.
The play is based on the 1967 historical fiction novel of the same name by Australian author Joan Lindsay, who has always encouraged the mystery surrounding the story of Picnic at Hanging Rock. Despite there being no definitive clarification of the story being true, it has always been considered one of Australia’s great mysteries. Hanging Rock is a real place from Lindsay’s childhood and is also featured in an 1875 painting depicting a similar scene to the picnic within the book, leaving many wondering if the fictional disappearance may be based on something quite real.
It’s admirable that Director, Geoff Brittain, and Set Designer, Ole Wiebkin, didn’t shy away from physically including the famous rock within the production. They have cleverly incorporated it into what at first appears to be merely just a backdrop that mimics the tough, Australian bush, but, after time, appears to be a high, climbable form that the actors can actually interact with.
The cast is a mixture of both strong, young actors and those who still need to polish their performances. Unfortunately, the weaker performers meant some lines were hard to understand due to lack of clarity, creating some confusion within the storyline, but overall weren’t a huge detractor from the show. The stronger members of the cast assist in truly transporting the audience to not only the fateful day, but also the school and community it left in unrest.
As we know, the rock has made a lot of trouble since the day of the picnic, and it looks as though the mystery of that day will continue to mesmerise audiences in its portrayal within Australian theatre. Picnic at Hanging Rock presents this Australian classic with a clever set and good cast that will hopefully become stronger with more time spent on stage.
Reviewed by Georgina Smerd
Venue: Little Theatre, The Cloisters, University of Adelaide
Season: 6 – 20 October 2018
Duration: 90 mins
Tickets: $18 – $22