Theatre is a living thing that changes and grows as it tours. STARBURST first saw director Matthew Lutton’s stage production of Picnic at Hanging Rock last year and when we heard that this quintessential Australian production was back in the UK, we simply had to take another look. We are pleased to report that the show at London’s Barbican Theatre is just as powerful as the one we saw at Edinburgh’s Lyceum. If anything, it has become darker, more poignant and more affecting than before.
This is theatre for those who adore the sort of horror that lingers with you for days. Moody, atmospheric, mesmerising and utterly brilliant, it is 90-minutes of edge-of-your-seat theatre that is a must-see for fans of existential horror, spooky murder mystery and those who like original theatre.
For those of you who don’t know the story, Picnic at Hanging Rock is set in the Australian outback at the turn of last century. Set during a time when Australia is becoming a nation in its own right, it’s about four girls and school teacher who go out into the outback to look at Hanging Rock, a former volcano and as the introduction charmingly puts it, a portal to the fires of hell itself. They vanish. This begins a sequence of events that are tragic, terrifying and very dark. This is a horror story, which draws its strength from a fear of the unknown and the unsaid.
The rock is portrayed as a disorientating, foreboding and overwhelmingly hostile place. An unnatural place where human beings have no right to be. This is achieved a minimalist way. There are only ever five people at most on stage. The set itself is stark and barren, with just enough props appearing at key moments to evoke the right atmosphere.
The production uses a final crafter soundscape, clever lighting and cunningly timed staging to keep the viewer on the edge of their seat. We are frequently plunged into darkness, with only our thoughts, the sound and the nagging feeling of the ever-present rock for company.
The new production is tighter than previously. We were expecting the various jump scares and knew the techniques the performance employed to keep everyone on their toes, yet we were entranced throughout, and each moment of terror was as powerful as before.
The show’s themes of English colonialism, casual cruelty, bigotry and Australian identity are starker and more accessible than before. The performances are nothing short of stunning. Picnic at Hanging Rock nails the definition of Australian Gothic; the dark and endless wasteland, the sense of a godless land where man is not welcome and a people attempting to impose an identity on a land that resists any attempt to do so. Go see this show whilst it’s still in UK.
PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK / DIRECTOR: MATTHEW LUTTON / SCRIPT: TOM WRIGHT / BASED ON THE NOVEL BY: JOAN LINDSAY / STAGE MANAGEMENT: TIA CLARK, LYNDIE LI WAN PO / STARRING: HARRIET GORDON-ANDERSON, ARIELLE GRAY, AMBER MCMAHON, ELIZABETH NABBEN, NIKKI SHIELS / LOCATION: BARBICAN THEATRE LONDON