There is a phenomenon that is rarely witnessed in our night skies when a secondary star in a binary system aligns with its companion star and the two shine with an intensity born of synergy. It is understood that when the ‘pup’ of the ‘dog star’ Sirius aligns with it they will together light the heavens.
Last night at the Seymour Centre in Sydney such a phenomenon took place in the York theatre. Gemma-Ashley Kaplan, in the character of Clara Makin, daughter of the infamous ‘baby farmers’, lit up the stage and generated an incandescence within an already brilliant premiere production of The Hatpin. The show brought the audience to its feet in a standing ovation.
It was a triumph for all concerned and for none more so than its creators, Peter Rutherford, music, James Millar, book and lyrics, Kim Hardwick, director and Neil Gooding (Neil Gooding Productions Pty Ltd) and Martin Kinnane and Kim Hardwick (White Box), producers.
The musical can be the apotheosis of theatre. It can bring together all the stimuli of our senses and concentrate them within our imagination to bring about an experience that lasts a lifetime. The Hatpin achieved just that. It is a gloriously dark, moving story lit with the very considerable talent of an effervescent Caroline O’Connor as Harriet Piper. Harriet is mentor to a tortured mother Amber Murray, performed with great truth by Melle Stewart. ‘Bad Fruit’ showed O’Connor is both diva and comedienne.
Supporting them were Peter Cousens and Michelle Doake as Charles and Agatha Makin, the odious ‘baby farmers’ about whom the story weaves with a sinister thread. ‘Knock, Knock, Knock’ brought to mind the notorious ‘barber of Fleet Street’ but without the copious quantities of blood.
Barry Crocker AM took the double role of the delicious cameo of James Hanoney in the song, ‘Digging Up’ and later Justice Stephens. Nick Christo played Thomas Williamson, Tyran Parke, Edward Cleary, Octavia Barron-Martin, Marrianne Leonard, Jodie Harris, Rebecca Rigby and Jennifer Peers, Minnie Davis.
It is a wonderful cast in glorious voice.
The story relates to a series of tragic deaths of children in the late nineteenth century. The irresponsibility of the Government of the day led to abandoned mothers having to seek refuge for their children among unregulated child carer’s. Equally abandoned workers were then tempted to take advantage of a cruel and uncaring system in order to survive. The Makins were destined to become the vilest of these.
The book treats the array of characters that populate its story with great sensitivity with even these villains being endowed with the aspect of tenderness and love, seen especially in the penultimate number ‘Holding You’.
The music is the life-blood of the musical. Not for one moment did the score of The Hatpin stray from the promise it made in the brief overture as it drove the events implacably on through its beautiful melodies to its exultant finale. It was then that the diminutive Kaplan took the witness stand and delivered the bladding stroke that turned a great musical into a tour de force. From there she gathered the audience’s expectations into herself and delivered them back enriched with a pent up fury that was wonderful to behold, The Hatpin was in every sense of the word a ‘show stopper’ although ‘Good People’ might be a more fitting title.
Hardwick has shown relentlessness in her pacing and the characterisation demanded of her cast as they filled a dreamlike landscape created with wonderful simplicity by Mark Thompson. It takes the audience through the various places mapped out in the story admirably enriched by the lighting designed by Martin Kinnane. The considerable back stage to the York formed an integral part of set to give a surreal depth to the whole space.
Millar originally brought the project to Hardwick who teamed up with Gooding and took it to Julie Mullins, the then newly appointed General Manager of the Seymour. Mullins saw in it the opportunity of masting it as the flagship of the Seymour’s inaugural subscription season. Fortuitously it coincided with the timing of Hardwick’s and Gooding’s own production team and so this wonderful experience was given wings.
The only regret was that the cast were not afforded a better sound amplification system that on this occasion saw an unacceptable level of vocal distortion.
Theatre is and always will be the most immediate of all our vicarious experiences. In The Hatpin we are not only enriched emotionally but through the knowledge of our past, understanding it, owning it and learning from it. Sydney will be the richer for the The Hatpin and the world will come to know and understand us better.
Neil Gooding Productions, White Box and the Seymour Centre present
Music Peter Rutherford Book & Lyrics James Millar
Venue: York Theatre, The Seymour Centre
Dates: 23 February 2008 – 15 March 2008
Times: Tuesdays 6.30pm; Wed-Sat 8pm; Wed matinees 11am; Sat matinees 2pm
Prices: $44.95 to $58
Bookings: Seymour Centre Box Office 02 9351 7940 or ticketmaster.com.au 136 100