‘[M]iranda, hatless with shining yellow hair. A picnic was no fun without Miranda… Always Miranda, coming and going in the dazzling light. Like a rainbow… Oh Miranda, Marion, where have you gone?’ From the classic novel Picnic At Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay
For many Picnic At Hanging Rock will be ever associated with the haunting 1975 film by Peter Weir that carried the additional title … ‘a recollection of fear’ on the poster. The film won many awards as did the film’s theme music by Gheorghe Zamfir and soundtrack by Alessandro Alessandroni. In 2018 there was a made for television version mini series that dragged the story out for close to six hours and featured an invented bad girl escaping to a new life in Australia storyline for the head teacher Mrs Appleyard played by Natalie Dormer. Additionally this reviewer has discovered a musical theatre version but we’ll let that one slide. And then there is a short play version (adapted by Tom Wright) based on the popular novel by Australian writer Joan Lindsay. And this is what we are seeing tonight at The Lace Market Theatre in Nottingham. The Youth Theatre production uses Tom Wright’s poetic text but in quite a different way than previously used in co-productions by Malthouse Theatre Melbourne and Black Swan State Theatre Company from Perth. The original small cast version was first performed on 26th February 2016 and it received its European premiere at The Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh 13th January 2017. It featured a cast of just five actresses playing all the parts and was directed by Mathew Lutton.
This youth production at The Lace Market Theatre is directed with style and admirable creative thought by Sarah Ogando with assistant directorship by Kevin Briffett. The set design is by Phil Makin with enigmatic lighting by Allan Green. Much of its appeal is through the fine use of music by Luis Ogando and the sound by Aaron Connelly both of which contribute a rich aural tapestry setting the contemplative, euphoric and nightmarish moods that gives the audience the sense of place, time and the shivers.
Instead of five actors The Lace Market Youth Theatre team have chosen to expand the players to sixteen players telling the story of three schoolgirls and a teacher that go missing – presumed dead – on St Valentines Day 1900 on a day trip out on a murderously hot day to the mysterious and ancient Hanging Rock. The cast are: Keira Fletcher (Nikki/Miranda), Esme Garaway (Amber), Indica Davies (Arielle), Lucia Lockley Morante (Elizabeth), Lauren Shelton (Harriet), Daisy Donoghue (Mrs Appleyard), Anais Barré (Sara), Lois Stevens (Micheal), Noah Ash (Albert), Georgia Feghall/ Emily Hallam (Edith), Viola Hiebert (Irma), Kate Russell (Marion), Fred Sevenson (policeman), Jess Erwin Jones (Mademoiselle), Kassandra Pittock Holdsworth (Mr Hussey and Gardener) and Rosie Hardwick (Miss McCraw).
Tom Wright’s original play script is very block text based and highly poetic with the communications split between five young Australian women, Amber, Nikki, Arielle, Elizabeth and Harriet. It’s no straightforward play to do generally and, in a sense, this style of play writing gives the cast and director plenty of challenges and scope for adventurous creativity.
And this is precisely what we get – a bold and extremely capable, technically mature young cast, and very fine directorship. The end result is an enthralling and thrilling Picnic At Hanging Rock, at The Lace Market Theatre. It is a relatively new play that needs careful handling and clever presentation and The Lace Market Theatre youth group should be very proud of this show. It is worth adding that the ‘Picnic’ costumes and parasols provided by The Lace Market are top class. The whole young cast are very impressive in their professional handling of the text and movement. Of particular note are Daisy Donohue as the uptight bullying Mrs Appleyard, Lois Stevens shines as Michael the Englishman, Violet Hiebert as is both comical and touching the picked on Irma, Anais Barré is all stillness and reserve as academically odd one out Sara and little Noah Ash is a character actor in the making, as Australian Albert. This youth theatre show is one of the top youth shows that this reviewer has seen in years. Bravo to all involved.
Below is a selection of the script that illustrates the storytelling well
Plunged into the dogwood
Erode their way
Through rotting vegetation…
I am alone on Hanging Rock
I can slit the basalt
As a hot knife in butter.
There are small jewels sparkling in ancient stone
The wind blows amongst pipes that penetrate
deep into the dark belly of this earth
Darkness has been stored all day
Hanging Rock pressing
Against the empty sky
Empty of stars
I think I have moved
Strange, cannot tell which is up
And which is the bedrock.
The air moves through everything,
And time, it is either still
Or it is so turbulent that past, present, future
They are all in disorder
And I am as much here with you now in your
As I am in some antediluvian time
When this stone was all liquid
And stars were yet to be born.
Picnic At Hanging Rock runs at The Lace Market Theatre until Saturday 9th April