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Mystery Translates Well To Stage

Picnic at Hanging Rock, West Sussex County Youth Theatre, Minerva Theatre, Chichester

The thought of Picnic at Hanging Rock being turned into a musical really wasn't a very appealing one, I must admit.

But West Sussex County Youth Theatre proved first thoughts completely wrong with a suitably haunting production which did full justice to Joan Lindsay's classic tale.

It all centres around a turn-of-the-century girls school in Australia and a disastrous St Valentine's Day trip to Hanging Rock -- disastrous because two of the girls and one of the teachers simply vanish into thin air.

Through music and dance, the cast superbly evokes the sense of being let of the leash which the trip represents, but soon things take a decidedly sinister turn -- and again the cast respond beautifully.

Emma Dearden is all grace and mystery as Miranda; Claire Rodemark is similarly impressive as Sara, the tragic orphan, innocent, vulnerable and cruelly abused.

But it's Helen Taylor as headteacher Mrs Appleyard who steals the show with a thrilling performance as a battleaxe who has worked hard to establish her school only to see it crumble in the wake of the disappearances.

Taylor captures disturbingly the spite it unleashes in the Increasingly angry, embittered head teacher. Mrs Appleyard's view is that the wrong girls have gone missing, and she cruelly turns on Sara.

In fact, the impact of the disappearances is powerfully conveyed throughout, particularly when the remaining girls angrily turn on the survivor as if she might somehow hold the key to their misery - a memorable moment in a fine night for the youth theatre.

Rose Ryan's first-class choreography coupled with Simon Higlett's set heighten the mystery of it all. Two or three of the weaker songs need to be jettisoned and the whole thing would have the tightness it just occasionally loses.

But that's just quibbling.

The big cast, with expert guidance from producer Anne Fenton and director Bob Tomson, have produced a genuinely-striking, distinctly-unsettling and very provocative piece of musical theatre, buoyed up by fine performances, oodles of imagination and plenty of talent.

Phil Hewitt

From The West Sussex Gazette, Wednesday March 7th, 2007

Morley Enterprises

Page Last Updated: 4th March 2010

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