Stage Fright with ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’ director Matthew Lutton

Matthew Lutton 3 (Andrew Gough)

Black Swan State Theatre Company is bringing the classic Australian novel ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’ to the stage this month. The show’s a co-production with Melbourne’s Malthouse Theatre and is being brought to life by acclaimed theatre director Matthew Lutton.

Lutton said that he first read Joan Lindsay’s fictional book about a group of school girls who vanish from a Valentine’s Day picnic near a large rock formation a few years ago.

“I read the book when I was preparing a production of a Patrick White play ‘A Night on Bald Mountain’, it was written about the same time, they both engaged with similar ideas about landscape, so that’s where the idea for this project happened.”

Working from Lindsay’s book playwright Tom Wright has developed a new script. For many people the mentioned of ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’ conjures up images of Australian landscapes and Australian Impressionism art movement, but Lutton thinks this is largely due to Peter Weir’s well known film version of the story.

“Peter Weirs film really had that kind of nostalgia to it, a daydream sun-kissed landscape. Weir also spends a lot of the film in that landscape, the first three chapters of the book make up half of the film, but in the novel it’s only about an eight of the story.” Lutton said.

The director said in developing the play they’d tried to stick closely to the novels storyline. People getting lost in the Australian landscape is something Lutton agrees is a large part of the Australian mythology, whether it’s a story on the nightly news, or the stories of great adventurers. Lutton said he didn’t find it surprising that many people thought this story was based on a real event.

For Lutton one of the biggest challenges was keeping the scarier elements of the novel and working out how to bring them to life on stage.

“It’s a challenge, how do you scare an audience in theatre. I think the experience does need to be one of terror and horror.” Lutton said.

“You don’t often see horror on stage, it’s not a common form in theatre, but it does goes back to things like telling ghost stories. You do think about how we scare people when we’re telling stories in the dark, it’s often about the way it primed, the set up and the mood. You don’t have to show people much to scare them, it’s something Hollywood worked out years ago, don’t show too much.

“Theatre can do that well, but it’s the same with the decision to put the rock on stage – is it better to get the audience to use their imagination” Lutton said.

‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’ opens in Perth on April 1st and runs until April 17th tickets are available at

Photo credit: Andrew Gough, Pia Johnson

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