By Sophie Kruse
Making its debut at the heritage listed Old Mill Theatre, ‘The Hatpin’, directed by Graeme Johnson,is based on the true story of Ambar Murray, who gave up her child Horace while looking for work, and unknowingly left him in the hands of child-murderers Charles and Agatha Makin. In this gruesome case, the couple were tried and found guilty for killing Horace as well as several other children in Sydney, 1892, whilst continuing to accept support payments from desperate mothers seeking their help.
The play opens with a haunting orchestral score (written by WAAPA graduate Peter Ruthford) accompanied with various projections, creating a vivid picture of Sydney in the 1800s. Although it took a few moments for the orchestra and the vocalists to warm up, once they did, the chilling musical numbers carried the tone throughout this piece and kept the audience unsettled from beginning to end. Madeline Shaw gave a particularly compelling performance as the sinister Clara Makin, who went through a stunning transformation from the stubborn child of the murdering couple, to a strong and identifiable protagonist.
Set against a backdrop of murder and music, this devastating tale of a mother’s love is an unusual focal point for such disturbing subject matter. However, it is playwright James Millar’s versatility that makes ‘The Hatpin’ a unique and challenging play, exploring a dark and unusual chapter in our past. It is definitely not to be missed for lovers of musical theatre and even Australian history.
The Hatpin runs until July 26th at the Old Mill Theatre in South Perth.