For Oz Theatrical’s first ever production, The Hatpin was a fantastic introduction for the brand-new Brisbane-based theatre company. Performed in the stunningly beautiful Spring Hill Reservoir over a single weekend, it is a shame that more people won’t get to experience this hauntingly beautiful Australian work, directed by David Harrison.
It is extremely difficult to summarise The Hatpin without spoiling the revelation at the end of Act One. This distinctly Australian work tells the true story of young homeless mother Amber Murray’s journey to save the life of her own baby boy. After placing an advertisement in the local newspaper, she engages the services of Charles & Agatha Makin who offer to look after her young Horace in return for regular payments. After being denied access to see her son for over a month, Amber’s suspicions are raised prompting her to investigate both the Makins and the other mothers who surrendered their own children. Act Two centres around the 1893 landmark court case brought against the Makins for the murder of fifteen infants in their care and the heart-wrenching realisation that one of these infants is Amber’s baby boy.
David Harrison’s direction was simple yet effective and allowed the hard-hitting story to come to the focus. The intimate nature of the performance space was not overly conducive to a set, but the small table and other set pieces allowed the audience to know exactly what was happening. This freedom allowed the performers to truly explore their characters. Directing in the round is never an easy task, and although there were a few occasions where it was difficult to know who was talking, his use of space in the quirky Reservoir setting was commendable. I particularly enjoyed the use of the walkways between the audience members, especially during the many percussive interludes from ensemble cast members.
Due to the nature of this work, there weren’t too many opportunities for Choreographer Lauren Lee Innis-Youren, however the movement she created during Gathering Sirens was extremely effective in creating the sense of panic and desperation on such a small stage. Overall the technical elements of the production were effective, but obviously limited due to the nature of the space. The lighting of the brick was beautiful and clearly set the scenes and allowed the passing of time, but the sound balance issues were unfortunately quite frequent and it was difficult to hear some of the dialogue over the sounds of the orchestra.
Julie Whiting’s musical direction was some of the best I’ve heard in Brisbane. The opening Hymn was spine-tingling and exactly how a homogenous choir should be. The ensemble detailing was apparent from the outset and the almost-onomatopoeic songs Knock, Knock, Knock and Work were crisp and extremely detailed – no mean feat considering the sightlines to the MD in the venue are practically non-existent. The 10-piece orchestra were full and polished, easily creating the almost film-like sound the musical demands. Due to space requirements the orchestra didn’t appear to be amplified creating a few small issues with both cast/orchestra balance and balance between the instruments themselves (especially during louder sections including percussion) but overall the soundscape was hauntingly beautiful.
Leading the stellar cast, Lara Boyle as Amber Murray was both vulnerable yet determined to find justice. Although it felt like she took a little while to find her footing, once she was there she was unstoppable – her performance of So Much More Than Me was sublime and filled with emotion, Boyle’s inner fire engulfing the entire theatre.
Chris Kellett (Charles) and Fiona Buchanan (Agatha) were the perfect villainous pair. Their saccharine scheming in Act One was convincing and their whole range of emotions after being convicted was haunting, especially Kellett’s final words to his wife before they’re separated. Buchanan’s performance of the Sondheim-esque Steal Away was equal parts rage and crazy, sung with a mature edge of only someone who knows their voice intimately and how far they can push it.
Tyallah Bullock as Clara, the biological daughter of the Agatha Makin, gave one of the most raw performances of the night in the explosive title number The Hatpin. The pent up anger she’d been suppressing for the entire show unleashed in one monster of a song was cathartic for both actor and audience alike, and you could feel an overwhelming sense of relief that she had eventually found the strength to stand up for the truth. Bullock’s stage presence at the tender age of 15 was akin to that of someone twice her age and she is surely someone to look out for in the future.
The rest of the ensemble provide an extremely strong foundation with some fantastic vocal work, however personally it was the performance by Carly Skelton, playing Harriet Piper that stole the night. Her comedic timing was impeccable and provided enough comic relief for the musical to continue. Acting as both a mother figure and instigator of justice for Amber, it was Skelton’s solo Something Like Being a Mother that brought the lump to your throat, her silky-smooth vocals the epitome of class.
I commend Oz Theatricals for taking a chance on home-grown Australian works and hope that they can continue to produce works that other companies shy away from. Their sold-out performances proving there is definitely a niche market in Brisbane.