Photo by Dan Allen
Sydney University Musical Society’s (MUSE) latest offering, directed by Hayden Tonazzi, did justice to its rendition of Peter Rutherford’s “The Hatpin”. As a musical based on the nineteenth century life of Amber Murray, the performance navigated the damning impact of misogyny on a woman who was forced to give her illegitimate child up for adoption to a family she later discovered were baby farmers.
Insofar as the acting, writing, and the band go, the show was brilliant. It opened with a sombre musical score which evoked a world slowly waking up. The actors took to the stage throughout the show to sing, their black and grey dresses and suits an accurate portrayal of 1890s clothing. The choreography was amazing. The props they used were extremely minimal; black umbrellas gave the actors greater stage presence and an ominous tinge in the face of the vulnerable protagonist. More than once I found myself sitting on the edge of my seat, utterly captivated.
Unfortunately, in other instances I was on the edge of my seat because I couldn’t hear the lyrics over the music. While I was lucky enough to be seated away from the band, people sitting near them found it “very difficult to hear what the singers are saying”. Some of the singers/actors were better at projecting their voices than others. Some parts required softer singing or speaking. This all meant that one half of the audience could appreciate the show a lot better than the other half.
Nevertheless, the presentation did a lot to overcome my immediate impression of Hatpin, which was, quite honestly, disappointment. I had flicked through the pamphlet while waiting for the show to begin, and lamented the lack of indigenous or people of colour within the performance. Surely there cannot be a shortage of POC or indigenous actors, and I wondered why it was so difficult to cast people who could represent the true demographic of Redfern, Hurstville, and Chippendale.
The actors present within the performance were, however, brilliant. Bronwyn Hicks, who played Harriet Piper is undoubtedly hilarious, and brought so much humanity to her character. Hayley Reynolds and Martin Everett, who played Agatha and Charles Makin respectively, were so disliked by the end of the play that the applause for them was more half-hearted than it was for the rest of the actors. This is a testament to how well they played the role of some truly deplorable people. Nicole Winter, who played Amber, shed actual tears more than once. And my god could Minnie Davies sing.
But for me, it was Kirralee Elliot, who played Clara Makin, who stole the entire show. The show began with her seated in a corner, hunched over a book, an inconspicuous character belittled by her mother. By the end she had removed the hatpin from her hat, and sang with such intensity and emotion, that everyone in the room had goose bumps. As indicated by one of the songs, “a gushing torrent begins with a drip”, and it was the character of Clara whose gentle voice rose to a crescendo and took all our breaths away.
Hatpin is a must see show. It’s emotional, its themes of misogyny and social hypocrisy are poignant and brilliantly presented, its music is wonderful and its actors amazing. Just don’t sit near the band.