Miserable and heartbreaking, The Hatpin is the grisly reason why Australian theatre is so gr
From the moment the lights rose on the stage, the audience fell silent as the intimacy of King Street Theatre transported us backwards in time, where we were absorbed completely into the Twisted Little Town of Sydney in 1892. The Hatpin is the true story of a single, teenage mother, Amber Murray, who while homeless, made the decision to advertise her baby in the trading columns of a newspaper in order to ensure his survival through the harsh winter. The Makin family take in the child, in return for regular payment. What ensued was an historic court case and the heartbreaking tale of a mother’s unfaltering love for her child.
Performing as the eighteen-year-old Amber Murray, Nicole Winter managed to infuse her character with the perfect balance of maturity and innocence through her utter desperation, the climax of which was reached in ‘So Much More Than Me’, when the awful truth of the murderous Makin family is revealed. The blood curdling scream expelled from her body at the beginning of this number forced a solid gulp to settle in the back of my throat, and the entire theatre was holding their breath while Winter’s eyes, or rather Murray’s, seemed to search the audience for anyone to help comprehend her harrowing situation.
Her performance was outstanding, particularly when combined with Bronwyn Hicks’, Harriet Piper - the comedic relief in an emotionally exhausting show. Harriet Piper employs Miss Murray to work in Piper & Sons Fruit Shop; yet, their affinity develops into far more than merely an employer-employee connection. In the show’s most touching bond between characters, this mothering role which could have so easily been clumsily overplayed is taken on masterly by Hicks, as their relationship progresses naturally and believably.
Vocally, a standout performance was the trio, ’Gathering Sirens’. Miss Murray approaches three women who had each also given their children to the Makin family, in order to gather information about the fate of her son, Horace. With voices that melted together to produce stunning harmonies, Jordan Stam, Mattie Longfield, and Maddie Furner each portrayed distinctly different women with intricate backstories that were beckoning to be told.
Hayden Tonazzi’s direction of the entire show was impeccable and was exemplified in the title number ‘The Hatpin’. The immensely talented Kirralee Elliot plays Clara, the daughter of the Makin family, who, while on trial for the murder of thirteen babies, began violently shaking to the point where she seemed possessed, word by word ejecting the truth from her body. Elliot’s performance left the audience speechless, shell-shocked, and covered head to toe in goosebumps.
The simple set and lighting, aided by the incredible original costumes, allowed the storytelling to take centre stage. The lack of microphones did at times create a competition between the band and the actors, particularly where multiple actors were singing or speaking overlapping phrases. However, the size of King Street Theatre and proficiency of the band ensured that this problem occurred very rarely.
With The Hatpin, MUSE has continued utilising its Winter Slot to delve into complex issues, which challenge not only the cast, but anyone lucky enough to watch it. Perhaps it was the challenge of embodying true characters, but every actor involved in the production portrayed a complex depth of character that can sometimes be overlooked within MUSE’s usual repertoire. The Hatpin revealed yet another side to the talents within MUSE, as well as demonstrating the importance of producing Australian theatre. The Hatpin has a great deal of potential to be an exceptional example of musical theatre created in Australia, and I highly recommend seeing the production the next time it comes to Sydney.