At the Seymour Centre the World Premiere of an Australian Musical THE HATPIN. Neil Gooding Productions and White Box present this work. Music by Peter Rutherford and Book and Lyrics James Millar. Based on a true life murder / court case this is what the writer calls a “sing-a story”. It is not a Dance show. It is Drama. The book and Lyrics follow a conventional linear journey with just the usual curiosity of a terrible serial killer murder, hunt and trial to keep us attentive. The text is sometimes baldly dangerous in its lack of insight or poetry. (The song lyrics are also sometimes so poorly projected that one is no wiser at the end of the song as one was when it began).The music is good but there are echoes of other composers that ones long to hear more of.
The best performances come from Michelle Doake followed by Caroline O’Connor (Although high energy vaudeville cheek is the limited range of her choices) and a more than pompously bland offer by Peter Cousins. The leading role of Amber Murray by Melle Stewart has a good sound to give but her acting is fairly ordinary and tends to hysteria and shouting so that our empathy is stretched and we are kept at bay from experiencing the journey of the heroine. The rest of the Company is young, and although trained singers, have a good choral quality that is promising but not very good storytelling gifts.
The Director, Kim Hardwick, has staged the piece with what seems to be a limited Design budget and those elements are relatively hampered in supporting the project. The Director needs to restrain the performers. There is really something overwhelming in the wrong way, with too much commitment. Subtlety, nuance, stillness and truth from an internal life rather than signaled by busy secondary activities and shouting would go a long way to giving the audience a more deeply moving experience.
The Composer Peter Rutherford is pleased that “there are no electronic instruments - even the piano” but the miked sound in the theatre is so noisy, loud, that it makes no difference to the received experience in the auditorium. This BRAVE and GLORIOUS effort workshopped over the last two years might benefit more from a Chamber Presentation where we may have more chance for the natural sounds both from the real acoustic instruments and the voices to survive. The sound pushes out at us and there is a feeling of having to protect yourself from it rather than the other experience which asks you to lean in and attend creatively - to become part of an imaginative, emotive journey. This is true, of course, of most Contemporary Musical Theatre experiences. We are made to see and hear from over conflated electronics in a usually disassociated way. This unfortunately is the case here.