The horror seems to come once the play begins, but its uneasy tendrils work their way in even as the audience make their way into the space. Zoë Atkinson’s awkwardly-angled set, a dark trapezoid, is a shape that never settles on your eye. Gray-carpeted so to make the actors’ footfalls and stagehand movements silent, it never settles on your hearing either.
It’s on this disconcerting platform that the play unfolds. An adaptation of Joan Lindsay’s book of the same name, Picnic at Hanging Rock tells a story of a group of girls that disappear on a school excursion. As investigation and interrogation proceed, it’s a mystery that presses on those left behind in unexpected, sometimes terrifying, ways.
The ensemble – Nikki Shiels, Elizabeth Nabben, Amber McMahon, Arielle Gray, and Harriet Gordon-Anderson – were a masterclass in precision and discipline (it’s also worth applauding the sharp work from stage managers, Tia Clark and Lyndie Li Wan Po, who kept things running tight, even as two audience members – inexplicitly leaving early – got lost trying for the exit and walked straight backstage).
In-between the shock and awe staccato of each scene change, underneath the supertitle chapter headings displayed above the stage, beautiful and compelling moments of theatre were performed. This brief encore run of Picnic at Hanging Rock is a sell-out, so if you get hold of a ticket, don’t let go.
Picnic at Hanging Rock
Merlyn Theatre – The Coopers Malthouse, 113 Sturt Street, Southbank
Performance: Wednesday 7 February 2018 – 7.30pm
Season continues to 14 February 2018
Information and Bookings: www.malthousetheatre.com.au
Image: Arielle Gray, Nikki Shiels, Amber McMahon, Elizabeth Nabben, Harriet Gordon-Anderson feature in Picnic at Hanging Rock – photo by Pia Johnson
Review: David Collins