Laura Lisak, Martina Sardelli, Céline Planata, Gina Millington and June Lowry (seated) show skill and versatility in “Picnic at Hanging Rock”.
Photo: Matic Zorman
A touch of humor, a convincing all-female cast and a great dose of uncanniness marked the opening night of BGT’s production of "Picnic at Hanging Rock".
A brown satin-like fabric covering boxes of multiple shapes, a white background and a wood desk. A minimalist set in which the rock is deliberately not represented physically, to add mystery to the already enigmatic story. Based on the novel by Joan Lindsay, Tom Wright’s adaptation for the stage directed by Tony Kingston for the BGT English Theatre Company unfolds in a series of vignette-like scenes, representing multiple clashes, contrast and contradictions that challenge the audience to think about what is real.
For 90 minutes, the all-female cast interprets the--fictional--unsolved mystery of a group of female students who, on Valentine’s Day, go on a trip to Hanging Rock--a landmark in the vastness of Australia. When four of them go to explore the rock, three disappear without a trace. The event leads to rumors and recriminations. Long-suppressed truths, desires and obsessions surface, which shake the late-Victorian order of the school and tear lives apart.
With five noteworthy actresses playing 15 male and female characters, it can become difficult to follow the course of the story for those unfamiliar with the novel or Peter Weir’s 1975 movie. But gradually the audience pieces the story together. If, for the first 30 minutes, the play seems jovial and childish, things get darker and more disturbing, accentuated by the play of light and sound including nerve racking screams, heartbeats, laughs and echoes.
Under Tony Kingston's guidance, the actors plumb the depths of their characters. Their emotions are so palpable that the audience becomes absorbed by the performance, as if they were part of the play. Employing undeniable acting skills and impressive versatility, the artists explore British attempts to “civilise” the wild nature of Australia through some subtle jokes and references. Most notably Gina Millington as Miranda and Michael Fitzhubert, but also Céline Planata as Irma Leopold, Laura Lisak as the terrifying Sara Waybourne, and Martina Sardelli as Marion, the French teacher and Albert, perfectly portray life in the restrictive environment of Appleyard College. They are joined by June Lowry as the strict headmistress Mrs Appleyard, as they explore differences in social status in the early 20th century.
If the play did not provide more answers than the original story, it certainly brought a new and fresh perspective to the fictional folklore. The applause of a fascinated audience rewarded the actors for their memorable performances.
“Picnic at the Hanging Rock” is performed on 25 and 26 April at 7.30 p.m. at Neumünster Abbey. Tickets can be brought here.