Music: Peter Rutherford
Book and Lyrics: James Millar
Director: Ricky Dukes
Reviewer: Christopher Owen
The Hatpin is a highly regarded Australian musical, and Lazarus Theatre here presents the European Premiere of this deeply dark, hard hitting tale. We see a young single, homeless mother desperately trying to care for her new born son, take the difficult decision to give him into temporary care. While she struggles to find work to pay for the child’s support she equally finds it hard to see her son owing to the new family, the Makins, who always seem to have an excuse. When she lands her new job at a fruit shop, she is persuaded to look into the family more, a decision which ultimately leads to some disturbing and shocking discoveries about their past. This then leads to a trial of denial, diversion, and eventually truth that utterly destroys the mother’s world.
There is no question that the story behind this musical is a very powerful one, and one not to be treated disrespectfully or haphazardly. In that respect director Ricky Dukes uses an effective dream like style to create a fluid ensemble of drifting actors, blurring scenes into one at times, and then providing a harsh contrast with sharp stillness to highlight the impact of the evidence emerging. Although at times the sheer lack of light onstage means that facial expressions and integral emotions are lost in the shadowy sides of the Blue Elephant theatre’s stage, it does succeed in creating a gloomy setting for this heart wrenching tale.
The music is full of strong discordant harmonies and at times extremely high vocals from a female led ensemble. Sometimes this proves too much not only for the cast but for the audience: with this many vocalists on stage, the harmonies can get lost and just sound messy. While on the most part this doesn’t happen, occasionally it seems as if it is heading that way. A more effective part of the show comes during a scene when the lead character Amber Murray, confronts other women who have given up their children to the family. She is surrounded by them and the strong pressing melody gets thrown around between the women. Combined once again, with clever direction this provides a scenario where the status of power and conscience is forever moving between the characters.
When the full impact of the story unfolds in act two, it is the standout actress in the show – Emma White, as the young, controlled daughter Clara of the villainous Makin family, who with a release of information, unravels the Makin’s truly disgusting doings. Even though it may be clear as to where the story is going prior to this, you still feel totally unprepared to actually hear it. It grips you right to the very core of your heart and truly holds an effect that many shows in London have tried and failed to do. While the music at times doesn’t work as well as intended, the cast and creatives on display here more than make up for it with an effective attention to the power of the story.
Like a mash up of Les Miserables, Parade, and Sweeney Todd, The Hatpin succeeds to crash the audience head on into a world of pain, confusion, evasion and leaves you feeling like you have been slapped around the face with the horrific heartbreak of what really happened. Lazarus Theatre have used a very distinct style in presenting a very stirring musical and it deserves to be seen by those who strive to find new theatre within the London circuit, but don’t go expecting a feel good musical; instead what you will get is an assault on your emotions which proves highly rewarding.