People disappear all the time. Ask any policeman. Better yet, ask a journalist… Many of the lost will be found, eventually, dead or alive. Disappearances, after all, have explanations. Usually.
– Diana Gabaldon, Cross Stitch
Since it first appeared in Joan Lindsay’s 1967 novel, the story of Picnic at Hanging Rock has been seared into our cultural conscience. Following Malthouse’s production earlier in the year – an adaptation of Lindsay’s novel, rather than of Peter Weir’s film – Sarah Goodes brings us Angela Betzien’s The Hanging, a contemporary take on the missing child story that has haunted us since the earliest days of white settlement. You can see it in the paintings of Frederick McCubbin, the claustrophobic vision of the untamed bush all around us, the impossibly high horizons and tiniest glimmers of sky too far away; you can see it in Picnic at Hanging Rock, Top of the Lake, and The Kettering Incident; in Hilary Bell’s Wolf Lullaby and The Splinter, in Jasper Jones, When The Rain Stops Falling; in the disappearances of the Beaumont children, Azaria Chamberlain and, more recently, Madeleine McCann. And while these events are in no way connected, they each capture our imaginations, and fuel our insecurities about possession, sexuality, colonialism, and our (lack of) control over nature.
Betzien’s play follows her recent plays Mortido and The Dark Room in the crime genre, and Children of the Black Skirt in her exploration of the Australian Gothic trope, and manages to combine the two genres within the frame of a crime thriller which owes several obvious debts to Picnic at Hanging Rock, as well as The Virgin Suicides, Heavenly Creatures, The Secret History, and The Catcher in the Rye. These nods do not detract from the story, nor the revelations and their ramifications, but act as a series of refracting mirrors, to bounce ideas and references off each other to create a new work that ripples with secrets, latent sexuality and its potency, as well as capitalising on the eeriness and terror of the Australian bush that has haunted our national psyche for centuries.