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Gold Coast review - Picnic at Hanging Rock: a timeless mystery

By Douglas Kennedy

Picnic at Hanging Rock from a novel by Joan Lindsay

Adapted for the stage by Tom Wright.

Directed by Hunter Wall.

Javeenbah Theatre Company

Season ends Saturday June 29.

Bookings: Box Office phone: 0417004466.

Running time two hours with an intermission.


Joan Lindsay’s 1967 novel, Picnic at Hanging Rock, is the mother of all Australian scary stories with its haunting mysterious themes and mesmerizing overtures.

In 1900, a group of girls from an up-market private boarding school celebrate St Valentine’s Day with a picnic at a beautiful Victorian natural landmark, Hanging Rock.

What follows is a mystical event as four of the girls, and one of their teachers, Miss McCraw, wander off to explore the site.

In a surreal, and somewhat dream-like, sequence three of the girls, Miranda, Irma and Marion, along with the teacher, Miss McCraw vanish as if consumed by nature’s ancient natural monument.

There’s only one survivor, Edith, who returns to the main group in hysterics and fails to explain what happened on the rock.

The fall-out from the event has ramifications throughout the school and wider community as everyone searches for answers.

One of the missing girls is found unconscious, another girl at the school takes her own life and the headmistress sees her business model disintegrate as pupils and staff all leave.

There’s tragedy at every turn and the publication of the book left readers wondering if it wasn’t a true story as the secretive author was ambiguous about its authenticity.

The legend was enhanced in 1975 when one of Australia’s best loved directors, Peter Weir, fashioned the story in an on-screen triumph as part of Australian cinema’s groundbreaking New Wave cinema movement of the era.

A few years ago, celebrated Australian playwright Tom Wright created a Picnic at Hanging Rock trifecta with a theatrical rendition of the story.

Now aspiring Gold Coast creative, Hunter Wall, has brought the story to the Javeenbah Theatre in a renaissance production of the mystery featuring five female actors playing multiple roles.

The ensemble – Hayley Stein, Tyla Molloy, Isabella Whitehead-Nagy, Emma Neilson and Jessica White – are seen as five contemporary schoolgirls at curtain up standing in a line outlining Lindsay’s premise for the narrative.

As the story – faithful to the original novel – unfolds the girls take on various roles such as the troubled and harsh principal, Mrs. Appleyard, the posh Englishman Michael Fitzhubert, his earthy Aussie friend Albert, the tortured orphan Sara and a local policeman who questions the remaining girls.

And we hear a lot about the lost girls, including the school’s stunningly beautiful Miranda, known as the Botticelli Angel (note: Sando Botticelli was the Renaissance artist whose works include Venus and Mars).

The young actors give credible eye-catching performances in this demanding piece under the direction of the multi-talented Hunter Wall.

It is interesting to note that Wall not only directs but has credits for the set, lighting and sound designs, which serve to give the production its Gothic quality.

Tom Wright’s adaptation is one of those achievements likely to have patrons returning to the original story as well as all the extra material lurking on the internet.

Thankfully the play ends with a newscast style broadcast that puts the narrative into context and leaves audiences with some clarity.

Picnic at Hanging Rock is a timeless mystery, which keeps on giving and this Javeenbah production is yet another brick in that literary wall.







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