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  • Fiona Prior

The Hanging by Sydney Theatre Company

Written by Angela Betzien. Directed by Sarah Goodes.

The Hanging makes frequent allusions to the iconic Joan Lindsay book/Peter Weir film Picnic at Hanging Rock. The Hanging's school girls however are modern-day girls who run away from a highly prestigious boarding school in Victoria. This particular ‘lost persons’ mystery hints at the use of illegal little white pills, pregnancy terminations and incest, on top of all he erotic undertones of the original Picnic at Hanging Rock.

Playwright Betzien and director Goodes have done a wonderful job at bringing The Hanging to life although I found Angela Betzien’s play Mortido, staged by Sydney Theatre Company last year to be a far more powerful work. Mortido encapsulated so many aspects of the drug economy’s black market ̶ the violence, exploitation, huge quantities of easy money for some, damage and death to most ̶ all wrapped in a wonderful geo-political and socio-economic lesson that had you leaving the theatre with a firm grasp of the global drug trade as well as a sense of the magico-realist, south-of-the-border culture. See ‘Mortido' here.

Betzien’s The Hanging deals with equally malignant and corrupting elements in life but I felt that it did not know its subject matter quite so deeply, and was therefore not able to render the same impact as did Mortido. Maybe having seen Mortido first and noted how much obvious investigative research had gone into its development I could not view The Hanging as just a piece of theatre. I expected that The Hanging’s socio-economic lesson would run deeper than the message that a prestige school would consider its revenue-making reputation more highly than the protection of its students. It was just too broad a stroke.

The Hanging’s set and sound effects were clever (Design, Elizabeth Gadsby; Lighting, Nicholas Rayment; and Sound Design, Steve Francis). While part of the stage area was referential to the original Picnic at Hanging Rock with its poetic allusions to those lovely young girls lost in the Australian bushland, the other part was an interrogation room where a detective, an English teacher and the one returned school girl from a group of three, grasp to make sense of the disappearance of the young girl's class-mates.

Highly recommended.

The Hanging Until 10 September Sydney Theatre Company

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