Picnic at Hanging Rock an actor’s challenge

Actress and WAAPA graduate Harriet Gordon-Anderson chats to ECU Daily about her new role in the theatrical adaptation of Picnic at Hanging Rock.

Harriet Gordon-Anderson and Amber McMahon in Picnic at Hanging Rock. Photo credit: Pia Johnson

Pia Johnson

Harriet Gordon-Anderson and Amber McMahon in Picnic at Hanging Rock. Photo credit: Pia Johnson

Shelley Timms, Staff reporter

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It is a mystery that has had Australians guessing since the 1960s, first told in the novel by Joan Lindsay and then in 1975 through the iconic film by Peter Weir.

Now Matthew Lutton and Tom Wright from Melbourne’s Malthouse Theatre have taken the classic Aussie story Picnic at Hanging Rock and turned it into a haunting stage production, with only five cast members.

One of these cast members, Harriet Gordon-Anderson, grew up in Sydney’s Inner West surrounded by entertainers.

“I was born into a sharehouse of a lot of WAAPA graduates,” she says.

“I have memories of sitting in green rooms when my parents couldn’t find a babysitter … I was surrounded by people who were interested in [acting].

“Being at parties where actors were standing on tabletops and roaring with laughter — I remember thinking that those were the happiest people in the world.”

A recipient of the 2015 Leslie Anderson Award for Excellence in Acting, she explains that her decision to study at WAAPA herself came mainly from the assurance of her peers that it was the best.

“They spoke about the training and the environment in such a way that it sounded like paradise,” she says.

Gordon-Anderson says her time at WAAPA prepared her for her Malthouse Theatre debut in Picnic At Hanging Rock, but her new roles — Harriet plays so many characters in the production that she is unsure of the number — did not come without some challenges.

“Initially it was quite new to me,” she says.

“As an actor you are comfortable in the skin of your own character.

“[You] get to know them really well and when the director asks you to wear the superficial voice of many different characters and not take a naturalistic approach to any of them, it’s new to me.

“It’s less indulgent. A very fascinating form of [theatre].”

Director Matthew Lutton says that the play focuses on the dialogue from the novel, rather than just acting out scenes. It is a direct adaptation of the novel, rather than the film.

Miss Gordon-Anderson agrees, explaining that Tom Wright took all of the dialogue from the novel and “from there has fleshed out bits and … added cascading waterfalls of poetry.”

Those looking to see the aesthetics of the 1975 film may be disappointed, Miss Gordon-Anderson says.

“If people come expecting the film they often do miss out on that romance I think,” she says.

“But we never really set out to have anything to do with the film.”

Picnic at Hanging Rock is showing at the Malthouse Theatre until 20 March, and will begin its run at the Black Swan Theatre in Perth from 1-17 April .

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