PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK: A marvellous debut from Barkly Theatre

CW: Violence, references to settler colonialism in Australia


CW: Violence, references to settler colonialism in Australia


With the audience hanging on every word, every beat, every moment, Barkly has hit it out of the water with their stunning debut production. Magnificently directed, Barkly had me completely enraptured as Joan Lindsay’s seminal Australian Gothic text unfurled in this sumptuous take on Tom Wright’s theatrical adaptation.


Before I review this show in full, I must make a crucial addendum. The notion of an “Australian” classic does not sit well with me. Considering that Australian English curriculums feature predominantly white authors, this reflects a deliberate erasure of Australia’s original storytellers. I acknowledge that as someone who is not First Nations, I do not have authority to speak on the concept of any legacy other than my own. Regardless, the show, as a “classic” text, contributes to the literary colonial legacy of Western white authors being uplifted over the sixty-thousand-year-old history of First Nations stories. The program notes that “this production transcends time, inviting you to face the connection between 1900 and today, realising the confronting realities of our settler past.” Barkly makes the forthright effort to acknowledge this throughout the play, even within the intrinsically imperial mindsets of its characters, most of whom meet fitting ends.


Picnic at Hanging Rock is a deeply deceptive text. I acknowledge that I haven’t read the original Picnic for a long time. So, I am reviewing this show purely as a piece of theatre rather than a piece of adaptation. I’m delighted to report it is still absolutely brilliant. The show is deeply thrilling. It follows the disappearance of three Australian schoolgirls and their teacher at the eponymous rock, and then moves into the disturbing investigation of how and why. Somehow dense and concise at the same time, the direction of Oscar Lidgerwood and Michaela Lattanzio (fresh off her run as “Mother” in Cipta Theatre’s debut The Last Supper) is nothing short of excellence. Their work has me enthralled in suspense, on far more than the edge of my seat. Lidgerwood and Lattanzio have constructed a complex story into what feels like the blurring of fact and fiction. The actors pass the narrative back and forth, a broken ball tossed around in a schoolgirl’s game enacted in this clinical chronicle of what at first is simply an unsolved disappearance, and dissolves further into a crushing examination of 1900 colonial culture, a deafening proclamation that we do not belong here.


A tight, thoroughly skilled ensemble leads the show. Consisting of Emily O’Mahoney, Alyssa Wong, Cosima Gilbert, Piper Jones-Evans, and Georgia Campbell, the five actors balance a precarious multitude of roles with ease and grace. Names and narrative blur, parallel and perpendicular all at once, the characters loosely defined amidst mere seconds. The character whose name is most repeated – Miranda, Miranda, Miranda… —never speaks. I wouldn’t be able to tell you who Miranda even is, yet her and the other lost girls of the rock haunt the show. The use of the body is particularly striking with Gilbert and Jones-Evans. There are multiple scenes of shaking, convulsing, the like—Gilbert especially has a rather distressing scene where the character “Michael” goes into a fit (I genuinely thought it might have been real from the sheer force emanating from her body). Jones-Evans is frighteningly convincing as “Sarah” especially in her manner of collapsing and in her careful, calculated movements along the black set, writing with chalk, an eerie scribe for what is to come. The dynamics are notable for their command of both emotional pathos and comedic timing. In particular, O’Mahoney brings an endearing sincerity to “Albert”, matching the character’s often comedic presence with a sense of unspoken introspection, a sense that aids the later reveal of Albert’s true identity. Wong is a picture of grace as “Irma” and her testimony brings forth deep empathy. Campbell’s casting as the imposing “Mrs. Appleyard” is marked by her commanding presence on stage, ageing in real time as she switches seamlessly from schoolgirl to police track to austere headmistress. With such a large handful of roles spread across the ensemble, the strong sense of character and body work has me rapt in their performance.


The work of the production team in depicting the eponymous rock has the audience immersed in an evocative atmosphere. Solène Bonheur and Campbell Jordan’s set design reflects a beautiful understanding of levels and texture. The layered wood combined with the topography of the stage blocks gives the theatre a gorgeous sense of depth. The “tomboy foolishness” of the girls ambling gleefully across grasses along the “rock” in contrast to the stark chalk and blackboard of their school has me enraptured. In addition, Jomar Inot and James Carolan’s work on lighting and sound respectively truly heightens the suspense in the production. The mix of flood lights, overhead lights, and strobe lights throughout the production blends with the perturbing plot points. The sound designer’s atmospheric choice to reflect the sounds of the Aussie bush and the use of rumbling bass is spectacular. My deepest affections to costume designer Ellie Dean, who I’ve been told made everything herself from the schoolgirl uniforms to the Edwardian dress. As a history major/nerd, I need to applaud the Edwardian carabiner. Well to be precise, I believe it’s the chatelaine! Applause to the stage managers Sophia Murphy and Felicity Bayne, the equity work of Saskia Powles, and the aesthetically pleasing additions of Publicity Manager Declan Duffy.


“Everything begins and ends at exactly the right time and place” and the time and place for Barkly to debut could not have come sooner. What a start to this theatre company. I count myself fortunate to have been among their sold-out opening night.

Farrago's magazine cover - Edition One 2024


It’s 2012 and you have just opened Tumblr. A photo pops up of MGMT in skinny jeans, teashade sunglasses and mismatching blazers that are reminiscent of carpets and ‘60s curtains. Alexa Chung and Alex Turner have just broken up. His love letter has been leaked and Tumblr is raving about it—”my mouth hasn’t shut up about you since you kissed it.” Poetry at its peak: romance is alive.

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