Picnic at Hanging Rock

Congratulations to the cast, crew and director on a spellbinding production of Picnic at Hanging Rock

Captivating audiences in the Sackville Theatre this week, they whisked us back in time to the languid Valentine’s Day of 1900, beginning with a chorus of three schoolgirls (Amelia Faure Walker, Harriet Ingham and Ines Whiteford), drawing us into the dream-like narrative as Miranda, Irma and Edith (Antonia Norris, Anna Volini Panos and Somto Chukwuma) set out from their elite Australian school for a picnic, driven by the stolid Mr Hussey (Mo Vahora) and accompanied by two of their teachers, Miss McCraw (Lucy Harrison) and Mademoiselle de Poitiers (Heloise South).  

While the narrative moved swiftly to the girls’ exploration of the geological oddity Hanging Rock, the dialogue, with its frequent references to stopped and lost clocks, a heavy, rhythmic soundscape and the actors’ slow, careful perambulations of the stage, created a trance-like sense of timelessness. The performers conveyed the heat of summer in south Australia with a sense of wonder while the primeval shape-shifting nature of the rock was captured deftly with a moving set of old school desks and chairs. Between scenes, thematic words and phrases were written hastily on a blackboard in large, uneven capitals, guiding the audience and echoing a growing sense of unease after the mysterious disappearance of three of the girls and Miss McCraw, the maths teacher. 

While a lackadaisical investigation by the local policeman (Charlie Brindley) exposes the seedier side of the characters’ apparently genteel world, the two male witnesses, English gentleman Michael (Charles Fitzgerald) and local lad Albert (Max Joseph), remain obsessed and shaken by the incident, while at the school, one pupil Sara (Sofia Molinaro), stays on as the others are withdrawn by their parents, despised and belittled by enigmatic headmistress Mrs Appleyard (Ife Oke), who is determined to wrest back a sense of civilised control.

As the claustrophobic Victorian colonial world of the 15 characters began to unravel, they were removed, one by one: Irma left the country, Michael headed north, the desperate orphan Sara jumped to her death and Mrs Appleyard finally headed to the rock herself. She left us there, unsettled, facing an empty stage.

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