Picnic at Hanging Rock – It’s No Picnic

Townsville Little Theatre's Picnic at Hanging Rock will open at Dancenorth (cnr Stanley & Walker Streets) on Wednesday 20 March. IMAGE: Martin Hodgson

It’s not often that you choose to direct a play when its corresponding novel and movie put you to sleep. But that’s the challenge Director Alan Cooke set himself with Townsville Little Theatre’s first offering of the year, Picnic at Hanging Rock.

“Reading the book, I thought ‘yeah okay’ – but then the film is better than any sleeping tablet I’ve ever heard of,” Alan said.

“When I heard there was a stage script though, my interest came in reading it and realising that it was a workable vehicle: it’s something that I believe I could bring to life on stage, despite never seeing it alive even in a reasonably well-funded film.

“This play is adapted from the novel and movie, so there are challenges – because it is an open set – in making good use of the stage, moving 20-odd cast members around the space effectively, and maintaining audience interest and engagement.”

Those familiar with Picnic would understand the cast size – but this in itself has posed its own challenges with the number far larger than your usual play. The age of the characters has also meant a lot of the cast will be taking to the stage for the first time.

“Nurturing first-timers has always been a goal of mine,” said Alan. “The legacy has to be that we’re able to hand down to the people we’ve mentored and drawn in over the course of shows, because some of them will get hooked and want to stay, which is the way it has to be: we have to prepare to replace ourselves. I love working with this many people.”

Aurora Roberts (16) will make her Townsville Little Theatre debut as Irma Leopold.

“I’ve only ever acted in classes, I’ve never performed in a show before. I’ve always had a love of drama though, which made me want to get involved in Picnic,” Aurora said.

Aurora Roberts as Irma Leopold. IMAGE: Dylan Megaw

“It’s an Australian classic with mystery, depth of character, and all within the one space thanks to a really well-rounded script. I’ve loved the cast interactions and gaining more experience in my own acting ability; the whole show has been really fun so far.”

Alan said cast and character interactions were an important piece of the jigsaw that was often not focused on.

“Relationships are important: one thing I’m interested in [as a Director] is always accentuating what is working, because I don’t believe it’s done enough. We’re always quick to point out what needs altering, but what happens less is pointing out what’s already working and the parts of scenes that are already there, which is what I’m driving myself to do.”

For those familiar with the storyline, be prepared for the same mystery, in a different way. And for those unfamiliar, Alan said to come with an open mind.

Picnic at Hanging Rock stands as an icon in Australian literature. I hope people come with energy, interest, and respect for a job well done because that’s what I’m aiming for.”

Catch Townsville Little Theatre’s Picnic at Hanging Rock at Dancenorth from 20-23 March. Tickets are available via trybooking.com

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