Tuesday, 6 November 2012

The Hatpin - review

Written by: Wendy Haines (@Wendyfer1)

Blue Elephant Theatre, London

The Blue Elephant Theatre is a small venue in an area of London that isn’t exactly bursting with culture. The organisation brings community and youth theatre to Camberwell despite austerity, an admirable pursuit which many other disadvantaged areas seem to be mimicking.

Photo: Adam Trigg
The Hatpin is Blue Elephant’s first musical theatre show and is produced in partnership with Greenwich Theatre and Lazarus Theatre Company. Hailed from Australia, it tells the story of the trial of the Makin Family, who murdered newborn children left in their care by vulnerable mothers. Amber Murray, a lead played competently by Gemma Beaton, loses her son Horace but refuses to stop seeking justice.

The performance opens with the company wandering around going ‘aaah’ for five minutes before we are introduced properly to Amber. The little choreography in the opening is made invisible through badly matched lighting and Dry Ice. The number Twisted Little Town contains refreshing, unconventional harmony, but the incessant shrieking begins to grate. It’s a marvel that baby Horace slept through it.

Director Ricky Dukes has made a good effort staging a mediocre musical. It’s very run-of-the-mill, with the usual simplistic chord structure, literal lyricism and speak-singing a la Les Mis. There is reluctance in musical theatre to engage in any symbolism beyond dead metaphor: ‘Amelia, it was just a false alarm’ is never more than ‘I’ve been deluding myself’. The songs are mostly indistinguishable. One song given to the character of Harriet Piper (Eleanor Roots) stands out at the end of Act One.
      Eleanor Roots has arguably the best voice in the show, although her acting was weaker. She seemed to lack confidence in her physical embodiment of the character and her articulation faltered. Her vocal performance however was the contrary. Dignified and controlled, her singing was a genuine pleasure to listen to.

Photo: Adam Trigg
Harriet Piper delivers Bad Fruit halfway through the first half. This is yet another ‘all men are bastards because one wronged me’ ditty that is intended as comic. I have as little patience for these ballads as I would have for a song where the genders were reversed. Men and women in musicals are so often in conflict purely because of their sex; it is not only old fashioned but also uninteresting.

Emma White as Clara is amusing, especially when arguing with her mother; overall, the performers who actually have something to do fulfil their roles well. I don’t wish to degrade the intentions of the theatre in any way; they have done well in both financially and locally difficult circumstances. If you would like to support their Youth Theatre projects or volunteer there, I encourage you to visit their website.

Photo: Adam Trigg
This production runs until 24 November 2012. 
@BETCamberwell @LazarusTheatre

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