Perhaps the true test of a musical is how it stands up when it enters the amateur theatre circuit. With a less experienced cast and creative team and limited staging and budgets, it often comes down to the strength of the piece itself.
Two years since it first debuted in Sydney, The Hatpinproved it had that strength on Friday night when the NSW amateur premiere of the James Millar and Peter Rutherford tuner proved a remarkable success and a magical night in the theatre.
In a beautiful presentation with excellent production values and strong signs of professionalism, the musical is being presented by the Riverside Lyric Ensemble at Parramatta in Sydney’s west.
And whilst this production does not boast the likes of Peter Cousens, Melle Stewart, Caroline O’Connor or Tyran Parke, its cast is still stellar and the production is nothing short of first class.
The production features Sarah Blackstone as the strong-willed Amber Murray, Penny Dunn as Amber’s bubbly friend Harriet Piper, Michele Landsdown and Christopher Hamilton as the conniving Agatha and Charles Makin, and Erin McMurdo as their sharp-eyed daughter Clara. Directed by Craig Stewart with Peter Hayward as musical director, this production is a surprise packet and a credit to the amateur theatre scene.
As an added bonus to the cast, writer James Millar was in the audience for the show’s opening night.
The groundbreaking Australian musical by James Millar and Peter Rutherford is based on the true story of Amber Murray, an 18-year-old single mother who lived in Redfern in 1892. The Hatpin celebrates her fight to give her son a better life.
In an era when birth control was unavailable, abortion violent and illegal, employment scarce and financial support for single mothers non-existent, Murray – like many young mothers in the same position – was urged to advertise her baby in a newspaper trading column. Professional child-minders Charles and Agatha Makin answered the advertisement and accepted a small payment each week in return for their service of care.
The Hatpin follows Amber Murray’s tireless efforts to reform her life for her son in the face of terrifying and wicked adversity and her struggle to be in a position to reclaim him.
The case of Amber Murray and her son Horace led to great reforms for the plight of the single mother and was largely responsible for the establishment of the 1902 Child Protection Act.
Riverside Lyric Ensemble, which will present Urinetown later this year, was founded in 1991 by Judith Rowling to be a resident theatre ensemble at the Parramatta Riverside Theatres. The aim of the society, which continues today, is to provide a viable outlet for local talent to perform works that audiences love to see and hear.
The Hatpin is a brave choice for such a group – it is a dark musical, far from the typical fare for amateur societies, but the risk pays off.
The Hatpin plays at the Parramatta Riverside Theatre until Saturday, April 17. Bookings: (02) 8839 3399.