Kate Herbert is theatre reviewer, Herald Sun, Melbourne & formerly for Melbourne Times. Kate is a director & produced playwright (20 plays). Scripts published by Currency Press. She worked as an actor, comedian, improviser & teacher of Acting, Improvisation & Playwriting. Kate is currently Convenor of Professional Writing & Editing, Swinburne University. Read her reviews here or at: www.heraldsun.com.au/entertainment/arts. NB Explorer Browser doesn't always work on blog.
Friday, 4 March 2016
Picnic At Hanging Rock, March 2, 2016 ***
Adapted by Tom Wright
from Joan Lindsay’s novel, by Malthouse Theatre Merlin
Theatre, Malthouse, March 2 until March 20, 2016 Reviewer: Kate Herbert Stars:*** This review is also online at Herald Sun Arts and in print on Fri March 4, 2016
This stage adaptation
of Joan Lindsay’s compelling 1967 novel, Picnic
At Hanging Rock, initially captures the enigmatic quality of the story that
became part of Australian mythology after Peter Weir’s 1975 film version.
On a hot, St. Valentine’s Day in 1900, four schoolgirls
and their mathematics mistress visit Hanging Rock for a picnic but only one
hysterical girl returns after the others vanish while climbing the harsh,
In Tom Wright’s script directed by Matthew Lutton, five
schoolgirls narrate this unfathomable tale in Lindsay’s evocative, impeccably
crafted prose and conjure a parade of characters from the school and
The five actors inhabit multiple characters, a device
that heightens the sense of mystery and alienation and accentuates the illusive
nature of Miranda, the fair-haired, ethereal beauty who leads the expedition up
the Rock and whose name echoes hauntingly in our memory of the movie.
On a bare stage made even starker by Paul Jackson’s
lighting, Lutton does not attempt to depict the Rock itself but paints with
words locations such as the prim, English-style boarding school and the savage
At the start, the performers address the audience
directly but, as the baffling disappearance unfolds, they transform into
These include the preposterously haughty
headmistress, Mrs. Appleyard (Elizabeth Nabben), Michael, an Englishman enamoured
of Miranda (Amber McMahon), Sara (Arielle Gray), Miranda’s acolyte who missed
the picnic, Albert (Harriet Gordon-Anderson), the earthy local boy, and Irma
(Nikki Shiels), the dizzy heiress found unconscious on the Rock.
The ensemble is strong and all actors skilfully
deliver Lindsay’s rich language while embodying characters that depict youthful
hope, British arrogant superiority and raw, Aussie practicality.
Lutton’s production falters after Irma’s reappearance
when shrill, almost hysterical performances and parodic characters replace the
earlier subtlety and unearthliness.
The schoolgirls’ attack on Irma in the gym eliminates
any essential sense of their fearful incomprehension, replacing it with bad,
girl-on-girl scrapping and screaming that becomes comical.
The scene between Mike, the Englishman (McMahon), and
Irma (Shiels), may be entertaining but it does not serve the story because it is
played for laughs.
Lutton’s use of abstract movement, particularly
Sara’s physical contortions to express her angst and fear, are often
This production of the much-loved, otherworldly story
of Miranda and the others’ disappearance succeeds only in part but leaves one
wanting to see Weir’s movie, read Lindsay’s book and call ‘Miranda!’ into the summer