(Susannah Clapp’s article appeared in the Guardian, 1/22.)
When Joan Lindsay wrote Picnic at Hanging Rock in 1967, she created a myth. A foreword encouraged readers to believe that her story about schoolgirls disappearing on a trip to a volcanic Australian landmark might be based on documentary evidence. It was not – it was fiction – but the plot is so resonant with actual anxieties that people continue to think it fact. Set on St Valentine’s Day, 1900, it conjures up uncertainty and dissolving boundaries. A century of Victorian propriety about to give way to a less corseted age. Girls, transfixed by romance, on the brink of becoming sexual beings. Nature about to erupt. Time in a trance. Fascination.
Tom Wright’s adaptation, for Australia’s Malthouse theatre and Black Swan State Theatre Company, hints at much of this. The emphasis is utterly different from Peter Weir’s swoony 1975 movie, with the girls dressed in rippable white muslin. Much more apparent here is a country squirming under colonial shackles, and a series of narrators trying to piece a story together.