20 May 2011
Like all the best musicals, The Hatpin is heartbreaking and miserable and reminds us why this form of storytelling is so compelling and important. Forget the likes of Priscilla; this is what Australian musical theatre is really about.
Based on the 1893 Sydney case of baby Horace Murray, The Hatpin is the story of the baby's teenage mother and the women who helped her. Filled with dilemma and unthinkable choices, Peter Rutherford (music) and James Millar (book and lyrics) have taken a piece of Australian legal history and created a universally resonating story about maternal love.
First produced in Sydney in 2008, The Hatpin went to the 2008 New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF). Since 2004, this festival has become the largest program of its kind and lives by its motto "Changing the world, 30 musicals at a time". Next to Normal (currently at the MTC) was still called Feeling Electric at the 2005 festival and [title of show] (Magnormos 2010) was created to enter the NYMF. Since New York, The Hatpin had been acclaimed whenever its been seen, especially the Riverside Lyric Ensemble's production, and Magnormos gives Melbourne our first look.
Thank the theatre gods for Magnormos. Formed in 2002, this small company does everything they can to support and produce new Australian works and to bring us productions of the boutique or forgotten musicals that rarely, if ever, get an Australian production. (And thank the same gods for Theatreworks's continuing support of Magnormos.)
Gemma-Ashley Kaplan (Amber) and Samantha Morley (Harriet) lead the strong cast. Gemma-Ashley (yet another glorious WAAPA graduate) created the role of Clara in the original and New York productions and let's hope we see her as Harriet and finally Agatha over the next 30 or so years. Emma Jones is our young Clara and her Act II climax song proves that we'll also be seeing much more her on our stages.
Shaun Kingma's solid direction creates mood and melancholy, but sometimes let melodrama get in the way of the drama, and played the end from the start. I didn't know the story, but knew from the beginning what the outcome was. I'd love to see it break our hearts even more by offering more hope.
The Hatpin will continue to develop with each production and it shouldn't be too long until a main-stage company grabs it (MTC, I'm looking at you). It's not quite perfect yet, but no show can be until it's had more wonderful productions like this. (My concern is the title; no matter how well it suits, it answers too many narrative questions. And Horace doesn't have the same ring...)
But don't wait for a commercial production, see the The Hatpin while it's still so intimate that you feel like you're freezing on the cobbled streets with Amber and her baby, and if we keep supporting Magnormos, their OzMade program could become the southern version of the NYMF and we'll see more beautiful and powerful musicals like this created in Australia.
This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com