“They’ve Been So Physically Affected By The Show”

30 March 2016 | 7:31 pm | Cicely Binford

What makes Picnic At Hanging Rock so powerful.

Picnic At Hanging Rock comes to the stage at the State Theatre Centre from Friday, April 1, to Sunday, April 17. Cicely Binford reports.

Picnic At Hanging Rock, the mystery of the young ladies who went missing in the Victorian bush in 1900, is pure fiction, but somehow author Joan Lindsay’s story is so plausible that people will confidently tell you it’s true.

Malthouse Theatre and Black Swan Theatre Company have recreated the myth on stage for us, and actor Arielle Gray is here to dispel any lingering doubts we may have.

“It’s incredible that the story has penetrated the psyche of Australians to become real,” she says, remarking on the occasional reportage-like feel of the narrative. “Is it real, is it not real? It’s close enough to the truth that it can become truth. And I think that’s what makes it such a powerful myth.”

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Malthouse Artistic Director Matthew Lutton directs, and Gray couldn’t be happier with the process. “Lutton has such an eye for the big picture and the wider scale, but also the detail. He’s such a joy to work with because he’s very generous with his conversations and feedback. He’s brought out the best in everyone I think. I can’t praise him enough.”

It’s Lindsay’s novel, rather than Peter Weir’s 1975 film, that serves as the base material for Tom Wright’s script, and Gray says, “he has a beautiful way with language and has managed to capture the atmosphere, the wildness and harshness of the area around the rock. It lives in the language of the play.

“The film is such a visual feast; the images of the girls on the rock, we can’t do that in the theatre. We can’t show the rock, and you can’t get a sense of what it’s like standing on that rock, but Tom and Matt have found a really beautiful way to capture the essence of the story and the rock within the medium that is theatre.”

Gray remarks that so much of what makes horror on film so effective is keeping things hidden from the viewer through cuts and editing. “Matt and the incredible design team behind the show have found a way to allow us almost to make the cuts like you would see in film. A lot of the design was based around us being able to appear, disappear and reappear over and over again. And it works!

“There’s one particular moment in the show that I absolutely love which really scares the crap out of people. I’m in a position on stage where I can see the audience in the next scene. It’s so gratifying, because there are people just wriggling in their seats, they’ve been so physically affected by the show.”

Ultimately though, Gray says “it’s about the ripple effects of that moment on the rock and the way that these refined, delicate English people are obliterated by the landscape and a land that they don’t understand. And that’s really what the play is about.”

Originally published by X-Press Magazine