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Criterion Theatre
Picnic at Hanging Rock (2017)
Written by Tom Wright
Sat 14th October to Sat 21st October
Memory

'A SHOW WITH VOLCANIC POWER' - The Guardian

Director – Lucy Hayton
Assistant Director – Anne-marie Greene
Production Photos
Cast
Elizabeth ( Mrs. Appleyard ) – Nicol Cortese
Amber ( Michael ) – Katie-Anne Campbell
Harriet ( Albert ) – Georgia Kelly
Nicki ( Irma / Policeman ) – Leonie Slater
Arielle ( Sara / Edith ) – Tina Shinkwin
Crew
Stage Manager – Anne-marie Greene
Prompt – Jonathan Rees
Set Designer – Nicola Newman
Lighting Designer – George Rippon
Sound Designer – Paul Forey
Props – Frances Dixon
Wardrobe – Pam Coleman
Wardrobe – Maureen Liggins
Wardrobe – Mary Ball
Wardrobe – Louise Robinson
Stage Manager – Anne-marie Greene
Set Designer – Nicola Newman
Lighting Designer – George Rippon
Sound Designer – Paul Forey
Artwork Design – Paul Hancock
Wardrobe – Terry Balhatchet
Wardrobe – Mary Ball
Wardrobe – Pam Coleman
Wardrobe – Maureen Liggins
Wardrobe – Louise Robinson
Props – Frances Dixon
Props – Rowena Tye
Set Build – Terry Cornwall
Set Build – Frances Dixon
Set Build – Chris Hernon
Set Build – Jenson Jones
Set Build – Nicola Newman
Set Build – Lukasz Nowacki
Set Build – Terry Rahilly
Set Build – Simon Sharpe
Set Build – Mandy Sutton
Set Build – Mike Waterson
Set Build – Kevin Woods
Set Paint – Norma Bell
Set Paint – Paul Chokran
Set Paint – Margaret Knipe
Set Paint – Judy Talbot
Set Paint – Emma Withers
Sound Operator – Sarah Basford
Sound Operator – Paul Forey
Lighting Operator – George Rippon
Lighting Operator – Karl Stafford
Prompt – Jonathan Rees
The Play

Valentine's Day.  1900.  A group of teenage boarding school girls visit the "Hanging Rock" for a picnic.

 

In baking outback heat (and in defiance of warnings from their headmistress) four of the group break free to climb the rock face.  Not all of them return.

 

This is the chilling premise of Joan Lindsay's classic Australian mystery novel, turned into a cult film by Peter Weir in 1975.  Tom Wright's brilliant 2016 stage adaptation tells the terrifying story with just five actors.  We see them first as modern girls in a private school.  But, as the girls delve deeper into the battle between humanity and the natural world, they bring all the story's characters to startling life.

 

The result?  A visceral telling of the classic mystery story: and a thrilling evening of fast-paced, high-voltage theatre.

 

“A show with volcanic power . . .  This retelling of the Joan Lindsay cult classic proves the book’s theme remains relevant – and will terrify the pants off you” - The Guardian

 

"Emotion, violence and meaning bubble up like magma . . .  an evocative adaptation that finds horror not in nature, but in the civilising class".  -  The Stage

Reviews
Australia gleams out of the globe by the side of the piano. And it’s red. Deep red. That was the colour of much of the world map in 1900.  Queen Victoria was coming to the end of her reign but the British Empire ruled on.
 
There is something unsettling about that redness, however. It is the colour of what Shakespeare called “a bloody, discontented sun”. Or as Elizabeth Appleyard puts it early on in this latest adaptation of Joan Lindsay’s 1967 novel, “We sleep on a sea of flame.”
 
Elizabeth – “Mrs Appleyard” to you – is the imperious headmistress of a school struggling to impose imperial values on some godforsaken part of the Outback. And failing. So much so that, by the second half of this imaginative and thought-provoking production, she is sampling a “medicinal” tipple or two while reminiscing about a long-ago dalliance in Bournemouth.
 
You can see why Bournemouth might seem attractive in this context. Hanging Rock looks striking from a distance. But close up it seethes with snakes and spiders. Ants crunch underfoot. The heat is unbearable.
 
Cracks and crags spell more danger and, sure enough, three teenagers and a teacher go missing on a school trip.
 
Passions are aroused in that unforgiving heat. Tempers too. Fired by those medicinal tipples, perhaps, Mrs Appleyard threatens and bullies a girl she dismisses as an “albino native”. A white Aborigine, in other words, whose subsequent breakdown is convincingly portrayed by Tina Shinkwin. 
 
She is one a five-strong female cast that give their all to this complex exploration of imperial pretensions in a hostile landscape. Georgia Kelly switches character, as well as clothing, with bewildering speed yet remains convincing in very different roles. Nicol Cortese has the presence as well as the voice to convey Mrs Appleyard with aplomb.
 
A cleverly thought-out set and some evocative background music add much to a production that emphasises once again the complexities of an Australian novel that is still raising profound questions 50 years after it was written.
 
*Picnic at Hanging Rock is at the Criterion until Saturday October 21.
 
Chris Arnot
 
Spelling and Algebra - or the Abyss?
Straight-laced, victorian, most definately "old school", Mrs Appleyard steadily drains a bottle of whisky.  Parents, for their part, steadily withdraw their girls from the now scandal-ridden establishment for young ladies she has run for many years.  A final impassioned, drunken speech - and applause from the cast.  The spell is broken: it's all been a play within a play.
 
Or has it?  The Criterion's staging of Tom Wrights' 'Picnic at Hanging Rock' counjured up a vortex that sucked in the "actors" intend on recreating a mystery from the year 1900 - so convincingly that the audience was increasingly unsure where boundaries lay.    Where was the divide between safe, dramatised re-telling from within the confines of a schoolroom and that which intruded from the mysterious, elemental and very unsafe Australian outback beyond?
 

The all-female cast was convincingly possessed by its own story. Nicol Cortese was compelling as British expat Mrs Appleyard, battling to impose an Eden-like order of poetry and mathematics in the midst of a primeval "anti-Eden" where nature "obliterates you". But when three girls and a teacher vanish on an outing at Hanging Rock (formed by an ancient valcanic eruption), the "eternal fire" that lurks beneath the surface of Australia blazes up, inching towards her bit by psychologlcally remorseless bit.

 

Multiple roles for the other members of the cast posed significant challenges, to which they were most definitely equal. Katie-Anne Campbell was eminently believable as Michael, a young Englishman fresh off the boat who sets out to investigate the disappearances, but succumbs in his turn to the disorientation that seemed to overtake the vanished party. Tina Shinkwin's first Criterion outing, as both picnicker Edith and, later, the orphan Sara, showed promise. Sara's pitiful mental disintegration in the picnic's aftermath has a perfect mirror to that of her bullying nemesis Mrs Appleyard.

 

Eerie outback wildlife sound effects, and P.J. Harvey's mesmeric music, added to the sense that spelling and algebra were ultimately likely to be of little use against this antediluvian backdrop puncturing the increasingly thin-seeming veneer of civilisation. With the mystery unresolved, things are not under our control, and we are not ourselves. Mrs Appleyard's final exhortation to the audience, sprinting 'towards the abyss - as we all should" - seemed a per-fectly credible option, in the circumstances.

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