Melbourne’s Malthouse Theatre has just begun a season of the first stage adaptation of Joan Lindsay’s 1967 novel Picnic at Hanging Rock. Some may remember Peter Weir’s 1975 film of the same name.
The setting for this work is Hanging Rock, a formation consisting of a series of column-like magma structures in Central Victoria. The fictional story of a group of private schoolgirls and their teacher on a trip to the rock on Valentine’s Day 1900 where several of the girls mysteriously disappear, has become so much a part of the Australian psyche, that many believe it to be fact.
… I saw her (Joan Lindsay) after the film had come out and she was besieged by the press, and she said to me, ‘Oh, the press keep asking me about the truth of the matter and I don’t know what to do. I don’t know whether I should tell them or not.’ And I said, keep your secret. It was never of interest to me whether it had happened literally or not. Peter Weir, 1994.
Adapted for the stage by Tom Wright and directed by Matthew Lutton, Picnic at Hanging Rock fuses multiple time frames, a minimalistic set, a thoroughly chilling sound scape, frightening use of stage blackouts, calculated stage movement and dialogue delivered with precision by a strong all-female cast. Though a little text-heavy for my liking and lacking some direction in parts, Picnic at Hanging Rock will nevertheless thoroughly entertain and engage high school drama students who are seeing the show as part of their studies.
What I attempted, somewhere towards the middle of the film, was gently to shift emphasis off the mystery element which had been building in the first half and to develop the oppressive atmosphere of something which has no solution: to bring out a tension and claustrophobia in the locations and the relationships. We worked very hard at creating an hallucinatory mesmeric rhythm, so that you lost awareness of facts, you stopped adding things up, and got into this enclosed atmosphere. I did everything in my power to hypnotise the audience away from the possibility of solutions… There are, after all, things within our own minds about which we know far less than about disappearances at Hanging Rock. And it’s within a lot of those silences that I tell my side of the story. – Peter Weir, 1976.
Below is a collection of web resources for teachers and students analysing the show (updated 8 March 2016):
We realised really early that we can’t put this landscape on stage … that if we tried to illustrate it in a very representational, literal way, it would shut down. They (the audience) would see it and then in two minutes they would have got it and moved on. So, having a mystery … actually denying the audience, whether its something aural or something visual, I think makes them engage. – Matthew Lutton.
Online Bookstores (1967 Novel)
Angus and Robertson Bookworld
The Book Depository
Education and Study Guides
Malthouse Theatre Education Pack 2016 Stage Production
Video Interviews with Creatives
1975 film directed by Peter Weir