Alberta Youth Theatre Collective reviews Lillian Osborne's Picnic at Hanging Rock

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The Edmonton Journal is proud to host reviews of local high school theatrical productions, written by student reviewers through the Alberta Youth Theatre Collective. Reviews of past shows can be found here

By Kira Slator
Strathcona High School

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Euphoria and terror reverberate through the Maclab Theatre as Lilian Osborne’s Picnic at Hanging Rock unfolds a mesmerizing tale that blurs the lines between reality and the enigmatic depths of the human psyche.

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Picnic at Hanging Rock is a theatrical adaptation of Joan Lindsay’s acclaimed novel of the same name. Adapted to the theatre by Tom Wright, this chilling production made its debut at the Malthouse Theatre in Melbourne in 2016, co-produced by both Malthouse and Black Swan State Theatre Company. Wright’s adaptation invites audiences not to a leisurely afternoon outing but to an eerie plunge into the abyss of the unknown; following the unnerving disappearance of four women from a boarding school in Australia, this play delves into the lies and false realities that underlie an idyllic facade. Blurring the lines between fiction and reality, this disquieting production leaves audiences starving for answers by the play’s denouement.

The nature of this production as being heavily reliant on voice-over narration served not to overshadow excellent performers, but instead served as a unifying force tying individual narratives seamlessly together. Individual actors were able to flourish despite this reliance on narration. Though relegated to a mere four spoken lines throughout the production, Paige Koziar portraying the character of Miranda had a stage presence so enigmatic it was near impossible to draw your eyes away throughout her duration onstage. Adopting a removed yet reverential disposition, Koziar was able to skillfully encapsulate a creeping, almost cult leader-eque aura that imposed a sense of inexplicable dread upon audience members.

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With the ensemble in this production playing such a vital role, it would be a disservice not to mention the incredible background performers that truly made this experience the spectacle that it was. Through synchronized movements, subtle gestures, and harmonized delivery of lines, the ensemble successfully built tensions, amplifying the ominous atmosphere permeating the narrative. Their collective presence added a necessary depth to the production, one that may have been otherwise lacking without as strong a cast.

The minimalist yet powerful staging was worth noting as well, allowing for a reliance on the actors’ performances rather than a physical set to conjure the mysterious and foreboding backdrop of Hanging Rock. Additionally, the use of subdued lighting, designed by Hannah Li, was crucial in enhancing the eerie tension of this production; heavy contrasts and deep shadows created a sense of foreboding, with such shadows almost becoming characters in their own right as they hinted at hidden depths and unseen forces at play. All in all, the technical aspects of this performance were truly what allowed for a translation of the original novel’s haunting ambiance into a vivid and intriguing theatrical experience.

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Overall, this production of Picnic at Hanging Rock by Lillian Osborne High School was a thrilling spectacle. Featuring a minimalist yet powerful technical approach as well as an accomplished cast, this rendition fully encapsulated the foreboding ambiance necessary to pay proper homage to the classic Australian tale.

Picnic at Hanging Rock
Picnic at Hanging Rock by Lillian Osborne High School for Alberta Youth Theatre Collective. Photo credit to Darla Woodley of Red Socks Photography. Photo by ‘RED SOCKS PHOTOGRAPHY, DARLA WO /edm

By Kane Allain
Morinville High School

Amidst the bustling energy of high school drama productions, there are rare occasions when a performance transcends the confines of the stage, leaving an indelible mark on its audience. Such was the case with the recent staging of Picnic at Hanging Rock by the talented students of Lillian Osborne High School. Adapted from Joan Lindsay’s iconic Australian novel, this production delved into the eerie mystery of the disappearance of three schoolgirls and their teacher during a fateful picnic at the enigmatic Hanging Rock. With a haunting atmosphere and commendable performances, the production transported the audience into the heart of its unsettling narrative.

From the moment the play began, the audience was captivated by the meticulously crafted set design. The looming presence of Hanging Rock, with its clever use of the platform set in the middle of the stage, loomed ominously, setting the tone for the unfolding mystery. The attention to detail, from the desks on each side of the stage to the period-appropriate costumes, enhanced the authenticity of the production and immersed the audience in the world of early 20th-century Australia. The clever use of the scrim set in the middle of the stage left audience members in awe, sitting on the edge of their seats with anticipation.

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Central to the success of any production were the performances of its cast, and the students of Lillian Osborne High School who delivered stellar portrayals of their characters. As the mysterious Miranda, Paige Koziar exuded an otherworldly charm, captivating the audience with her ethereal presence and beguiling innocence. Opposite her, Karam Warraich delivered a compelling performance as the brooding Michael Fitzhubert, navigating the complexities of his character’s emotions with remarkable depth.

The supporting cast also shone in their respective roles, each contributing to the rich tapestry of characters that populate Lindsay’s novel. Whether it was the stern authority of Mrs. Appleyard, portrayed with steely resolve by Cassie Burke, or the mischievous antics of the schoolgirls, every actor brought nuance and authenticity to their performances, elevating the production as a whole.

One of the production’s most impressive feats was its ability to capture the elusive atmosphere of Lindsay’s novel. Through subtle lighting cues and a haunting musical score, the production evoked a sense of foreboding that lingered long after the finish. Moments of tension were masterfully crafted, keeping the audience on the edge of their seats as the mystery of the girls’ disappearance unravelled.

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In conclusion, the high school production of Picnic at Hanging Rock was nothing short of exceptional. From its haunting atmosphere to its captivating performances, the production captured the essence of Joan Lindsay’s iconic novel, leaving a lasting impression on all who had the privilege of experiencing it. As the final notes of the musical score faded into silence, it was evident that this production would be remembered as a highlight of Lillian Osborne High School’s theatrical repertoire for years to come.

Picnic at Hanging Rock
Picnic at Hanging Rock by Lillian Osborne High School for Alberta Youth Theatre Collective. Photo credit to Darla Woodley of Red Socks Photography. Photo by ‘RED SOCKS PHOTOGRAPHY DARLA WOO /edm

By Rosalie Briggs
Strathcona High School

Three missing schoolgirls, a teacher, a mysterious natural formation and a myriad of suspects. Picnic at Hanging Rock, the play based on one of the most famous Australian historical fiction stories ever, is about a group of students who disappear at Hanging Rock on a school Valentine’s Day picnic and the effects this mystery has on the school and community. This story, haunting and eerie, was performed at the Maclab Theatre in Lillian Osborne by students from the school’s Advanced Acting, Theatre Design, and Tech Theatre classes.

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The acting in this production was phenomenal, adapting a play for a cast of five to accommodate over twenty students. This show also had an understudy cast who got their own performance. The entire cast was onstage the whole time, either in the centre of the set around the scrim or in chairs on the sides, often representing a classroom or a carriage. The narrators were phenomenal, sometimes hidden in the crowd with their voice being mysteriously untrackable, other times lined up at the front of the stage, painting the story as it was happening. Also amazing was Cassie Burke as Mrs. Applebaum, the strict, stressed, headmistress of the school. Prone to self-medication with alcohol, she always had a drink in her hand and truly acted around it, as well as standing for the entire run time of the show either behind a podium or in her scenes. Another standout performance was Karam Warraich as Michael, excellently portraying the character’s frustration as he looks for the girls, being haunted by what happened at the rock. The schoolgirls were also all incredible, those without lines worked with synchronous movements, almost choreography, in their seats on either side of the stage, keeping the audience engrossed in the story.

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However, the most impressive part was definitely the creative combination of tech elements. A scrim stood in the middle of the stage, inspired by the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey, used as a projection screen until lit from behind, when it became transparent. This production worked around this scrim which, during some of the most intense scenes, like Mrs Appleyard’s monologue, would have live footage of the character being projected on it. There were two crew members who recorded this footage, often from a perspective not seen by the audience. These clips, along with pre-recorded videos of files, pictures, paintings, hands, and eyes, made up a collage of video footage that was projected onto the scrim, adding another layer to the story. Lighting was gorgeous, dark and mysterious, with more red being added in as the story progressed. Sound, especially the blend between background ambience, music, and voices, was very well done, especially when combined with lighting to create an effect of disembodiment with the narrators’ lines. With over 200 tech cues, this performance was a technical masterpiece with an atmosphere that made the audience just as tense as the characters themselves.

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Lillian Osborne truly brought this classic mystery to life, engaging the audience in the ambiguity of the situation that the characters were struggling with, without a dull moment on stage.

Picnic at Hanging Rock
Picnic at Hanging Rock by Lillian Osborne High School for Alberta Youth Theatre Collective. Photo credit to Darla Woodley of Red Socks Photography. Photo by ‘RED SOCKS PHOTOGRAPHY, DARLA WO /edm

By Bridget Gutteridge-Hingston
Strathcona High School

Although it impressed with strong acting performances and overall incredible technical design and execution, Lillian Osborne’s Picnic at Hanging Rock certainly left the audience hanging in terms of plot… could a few more hints not have been revealed?

The novel Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay is one of the most beloved pieces of Australian literature. Set in the year 1900, one year before Australia became a nation, it tells the mysterious story of a group of girls who disappear while on a school trip. As recommended by her editor, Lindsay removed the final chapter prior to publication, thus eliminating the resolution and leaving it up to the reader to decide what really happened to the girls. The novel was adapted into a film by Peter Weir in 1975.

Five modern-day schoolgirls acted as narrators as they tried to figure out exactly what happened back in 1900 at Hanging Rock. One of these who stood out was Amber, played by Kayla Lui. She stayed committed to her shy and curious character while clearly relating herself to the girls who disappeared. These girls were also played with care, and those who stood out included Prabhnoor Sandhu and Yasmin Abdirasak, who played Irma and Edith. Sandhu did a stellar job of capturing the youth and innocence of the girls while subtly playing into the more sinister possibilities of what could have happened. Edith’s character felt more grounded, and yet at the same time more unhinged, all thanks to Abdirasak’s work.

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The technical side of things is where the production really took off. Centred on the stage was a scrim, which is a piece of cloth that can be projected on, or used to show what is behind, or even both at the same time. This lent itself very well to the subject matter. It created a whole new level of eeriness to see the trees and flowers in front with the outline of the girls seeping through from behind. Some of the projected video was even filmed live during the performance, overseen by video director Breanna Yang. Truly going above and beyond, the entire show was tastefully underscored by the school’s digital music class which really added the ‘wow’ factor.

For a story that was designed to confuse, it certainly met the brief. The entire storyline was extremely convoluted, leaving nothing but vague details and confusing ‘clues’ to point the audience in the right direction. It can be fun to make up your own mind about something, but that is almost impossible when you have so little to go off of in the first place.

Equal parts theatre and video masterpiece, Picnic at Hanging Rock achieved many wins in terms of production.

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Picnic at Hanging Rock
Picnic at Hanging Rock by Lillian Osborne High School for Alberta Youth Theatre Collective. Photo credit to Darla Woodley of Red Socks Photography. Photo by ‘RED SOCKS PHOTOGRAPHY, DARLA WO /edm

By Paige Taylor
Strathcona High School

Lillian Osborne’s advanced acting and technical theatre classes displayed their chilling performance of Picnic at Hanging Rock this past week, showing that silence isn’t always golden. Their eerie and chilling interpretation of one of Australia’s most famous pieces of literature adapted to play was unlike anything the audience had ever seen.

The play, written soon after the publication of the original novel in 1967, takes place in 1900, prior to the creation of Australia, when British colonists implemented educational institutes for Australian children. It is a mystery surrounding four girls from Mrs. Appleyard’s College for Young Ladies, who suddenly go missing on a school picnic to Hanging Rock, nowhere to be found or heard from.

Cassie Burke, who played the role of Mrs. Appleyeard, the stern keeper of the stronghold college, made her character’s looming presence known the moment she stepped foot onto the stage. Each respective delivery of her lines contributed to the beautifully haunting air that encapsulated the theatre. She made each and every person feel as though they were the ones under the mistress’s microscope.

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Attention to detail is what really drew the audience in, and both Prabhnoor Sandhu (Irma) and Erran Tcaciuc (Albert) always displayed something incredibly intricate that took their character’s appearances to the next level. As one of the girls who goes missing, Irma faces unimaginable struggles, however, before her disappearance, she is a proper rich girl with ambition to fill her social figure and Sandhu’s portrayal of “beauty on the outside, not so much on the inside” at the beginning of the play allowed for the development of her character to hit the audience hard. Tcaciuc, on the other hand, played the character of Albert who has a protective heart for all those that come into his life. Albert’s rough childhood goes undisclosed throughout the majority of the play, but when the truth is revealed, it shows that his big heart has more love behind it than what might meet the eye. Tcaciuc’s characterisation initially leads the audience astray — he presents a closed-off physicality so that when his past is discovered, it allows for a gut-wrenching realization to set in. Also, Tcaciuc’s commitment through his spot-on Australian accent that never wavered throughout the duration of the play really showed that he went the extra mile.

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With over 200 cues in total, the combined technical theatre classes created an atmosphere that totally immersed the audience with a completed soundscape, deliberate lighting choices, and impressive live filming. Teams worked all over to present the self-designed, live-looped sound files that catered to the needs of every scene and the warm and dim lighting that added to the eerie feeling of the theatre. In addition, the use of both live and pre-recorded projections on a translucent Scrim made the performance of the actors even more impactful.

Lillian Osborne brought the hauntingly beautiful performance of Picnic at Hanging Rock to life with an impeccable balance between acting and technical skills.

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