Picnic at Hanging Rock preview: ‘an unmissable performance’

By Catriona Inglis

Pitch Productions’ upcoming performance of Picnic at Hanging Rock promises to be one of thrills and visual spectacle. The play, which was first adapted from the Australian Classic in 2015, only made its European debut in 2017. Pitch Productions are now bravely producing their own version of this play and have really risen to the challenge of performing a piece only previously performed by one cast. The play explores the haunting mystery of three school-girls who inexplicably vanish whilst on a school trip. The girl who returns, Edith, is traumatised but has no memory of the event. The director, Sophie Wright, said that the story had also been “part of (her) cultural consciousness” as a result of her Australian background. She was therefore very excited to pitch the idea to the production team who leapt at the chance to present the Australian classic to an English audience

The script itself, adapted by Tom Wright in 2015, is “almost like poetry” says producer Sophie Washington-Sare. Assistant director, Clair Simonis said that the script had a kind of “Shakespearean gravitas”, comparing the play to Hamlet or Macbeth. Indeed, this has greatly affected the way the creative team have approached their production. When speaking to their cast Wright said they told them to tackle their characters as if they were well established in a way which implies greater backstory than is given explicitly within the play. When I spoke to Izzy Hassett about her character Mrs Appleyard she described the challenge of filling in the gaps of her character’s past from the hints given in her monologues. Indeed, whilst visiting one of their rehearsals, I had the pleasure of viewing a short preview of a scene between the characters of Mrs. Appleyard, and Sara, played by Francesca Chaplin. Even at this early stage in the rehearsal process, both actors displayed a good understanding of their characters, and this really came across in their portrayals of them. Hassett demonstrated an excellent awareness of the emotional complexities of her role, but also considered the unknowable, cold and merciless outer demeanour. I very much look forward to watching her and all the cast in the real performance.

Another big aspect of the performance is the set and the lighting for which the concepts were being drawn up over the summer. Lucien Rhys, the technical director, has big plans for the set and lighting which he hopes will give the play a “stylised and abstract” quality. He hopes to emphasise the thriller and mystery aspects of the play through non-naturalistic lighting and through the use of texture on the stage. “The Australian outback is quite an inhospitable environment,” said Wright. “So we wanted to reflect that in the way the set design was done.” Washington-Sare said that the show would be, “good to watch as a visual spectacle”. This emphasis on display will certainly make the show stand out in the Durham drama scene as will its horror themes which are not so commonly explored.

Wright summarises the show saying it is, “about people, but it is also about intensity and emotion and we are trying to make the audience feel something”. For me this show is a must–watch for all theatre and horror lovers. It is set to be an unmissable performance.

‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’ will be performed at the Assembly Rooms Theatre, debuting on 2nd November at 7:30. Book your tickets: https://www.dur.ac.uk/whatson/event/?id=36995&eventno=36995 

Photograph: Pitch Productions

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