A note from Matthew Lutton on Picnic at Hanging Rock

26 February 2016

Photo / Pia Johnson

A note from Matthew Lutton on the retelling of an enduring Australian myth

This production of Joan Lindsay’s novel is told by five schoolgirls. They know the myth as if they were there in 1900, as if they are schoolgirls trapped in the wrong time. They have access to the mystery, and will play for us the moments we might be able to understand.

The production begins with a recitation of the fateful day in 1900 when Miranda, Irma, Marion and Miss McGraw disappeared. They speak about the malleability of time, of crossing creeks and sleep, and of colonialism, of the white Australian ignorance of what surrounds them, the land we are foreigners in, the land we fail to listen to, the land we have tried to tame with 'Englishness' and 'naming'.

The disappearance of the girls is a horror beyond comprehension for the community at Appleyard College. It is a trauma that all respond to. The girl from the orphanage, Sara, her body contorts from the horror of being left behind. The Headmistress, Mrs Appleyard, insists on more vigilant teachings of restraint to help Australia “mature”. The young English visitor, Michael, sheds his “Englishness” because of an obsession with Miranda, a girl with golden locks, whom he saw only for a moment, hanging in the air, leaping across a creek.

The central character of Picnic at Hanging Rock however is nature. It releases and disturbs all the characters. There is no literal representation of the Rock in this production; it is a presence, frequently evoked by language. But sometimes we see nature thinking in the sign over the stage, or glimpse a physical manifestation hanging in the shadows, or sense its infiltrating presence in the darkness.

Malthouse Theatre invites you into the Australian myth of Hanging Rock, one that has been in our national imaginations for decades, and one that will undoubtedly be retold for many decades to come.

Matthew Lutton / Director of Picnic at Hanging Rock


Picnic at Hanging Rock plays 26 February – 20 March 2016.