Joan Lindsay’s 1967 classic, Picnic at Hanging Rock has been beautifully adapted for the stage by Director Carol Burns.
The Brisbane Arts Theatre’s historic performance space was aglow with mystery on opening night when audiences reconnected with, or discovered for the first time, the chilling tale of a group of boarding school girls who go missing at the mythical rock. Carol Burns is a seasoned professional and this is evident by her reverent adaptation, not only of the text but also the settings to suit the small community theatre environment.
Shane Rodwell (set design) magically transforms the theatre into the spooky crest of the rock where the girls are overcome by its mysterious powers, but this massive, rocky stage is abstract enough to allow it to be transformed into the myriad locations that are required to explore this story in full.
The set is managed by Burns’ ‘ninjas’, black-clad stage hands who skilfully change-out the settings before our eyes, giving props and furniture the appearance of levitating into the action and actors seem to pluck their props right out of the air. Watching set changes live can be a dreadful experience for an audience but these ‘ninjas’ actually added to the overall creep of the production and proved a brilliant way to get around the many set changes required without having to open and close curtains or pretend that real people weren’t breaking the imaginary in order to provide a location change.
Seamless music and sound design by Alan Lawrence created layers of atmosphere whether it was through soft melodies or subtle sounds effects that were barely noticeable but set a nerve on edge and Geoff Squires (lighting designer) rounded off the exemplary production design.
The cast was large and impressive; many wonderful performances coming from the gaggle of boarding-school girls (teenage girls in uniform at just so naturally terrifying) with notable performances by Elodie Boal (delightfully childish as Edith) and Lia Davies (Irma). Andrew Lowe was exceptional in the role of Albert and a pleasure to watch perform.
A late show, starting at 8pm, Picnic at Hanging Rock runs for two and half hours with an interval. Tickets are priced well at $31 for adults and parking is ample (unless it’s game night). It’s wonderful to see such a high calibre production play at the lovely old Arts Theatre – I hope to see more like this.