Preview: Picnic at Hanging Rock
The eerie Outback tale comes to the stage
David Greig's first year as artistic director of Edinburgh's Royal Lyceum is demonstrating his admirable desire to continue the theatre's tradition of staging classic scripts while introducing internationally respected companies to its audience. Black Swan Theatre, Western Australia's flagship company, bring their bracing adaptation of Joan Lindsay's novel, Picnic at Hanging Rock, to Edinburgh in January, on the back of excited reviews from Australia and Europe.
Picnic at Hanging Rock, made into a film in 1975, tells a macabre story of missing school girls: the play follows the novel's ambiguity about their disappearance, by turns a murder mystery and a supernatural thriller. Matthew Lutton's direction uses theatre's intimacy for a complex and frightening production that recognises the tensions between maturity and childishness in the teenagers and presents their tragedy without unravelling too much of the confused circumstances.
Lutton identifies the very landscape of the Australian outback as a major character in the plot, and the script jumps between the time of the disappearance in 1900 and a later visit to the site to create an atmosphere of anxiety and threat. Time itself becomes slippery and the brooding presence of the wilderness overshadows the struggles of the young women.
Thanks to the author's suggestions that the novel was based on a true story, Picnic has become modern Australian mythology, embodying the battle between humans and nature itself: Lutton and playwright Tom Wright imagine the story as it has passed into memory and folklore and conjure a horror story grounded in a nation's imagination.
Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, Fri 13–Sat 28 Jan.