Hats Off

First-time director Jordan Peters has hit the ground running with UMMTA’s The Hatpin, a story surrounding motherhood and friendship in the midst of a terrible tragedy. With a powerful ensemble, succinct direction and the perfect balance of comedy and poignancy, the production exceeded my expectations, and delivered what is surely one of the most impressive productions of the year.

The performances in The Hatpin were convincing, entertaining and captivating. Eleanor Davey rose to the demanding role of Amber Murray, giving a consistent and emotive performance. Occasionally her character’s gentle meekness came across as somewhat lacklustre; nonetheless, her performance was on the whole impressive. Thomas Kitt-Thompson similarly delivered a solid portrayal of Charles Makin, balancing his obsessive devotion to his wife with his underlying brutality.

However, Emma Gordon-Smith, Grace Haslinghouse and Bella Wiemers delivered the show’s stellar performances. As Harriet Piper, Emma Gordon-Smith enchanted the audience in equal parts with her voice and the rough yet jovial charm of her character. Grace Haslinghouse, as Agatha Makin, performed with a commanding energy and charisma, which lifted the entire production. The characterisation of Agatha balanced her shrillness, charm, cruelty and comedy in a way that was both enthralling and disturbing. Bella Wiemers, as Clara Makin, was the dark horse of the performance. Playing a relatively small role for the majority of the play, her final monologue was outstandingly poignant, equal parts redeeming, moving and distressing. A mention must also be given to the chorus and minor characters, who were committed, charismatic and beguiling. They were crucial in building the play’s atmosphere, and indeed, to the performance’s success as a whole.

As director, Jordan Peters’ role in the success of the cast must be mentioned. The ensemble in particular were exceedingly well directed, their blocking came across as natural, neat and succinct. The musical numbers were also simply and precisely executed, much to the credit of choreographer Ellie Richards. Throughout the performance, the production used space consistently, ultimately lending cohesion to the entire narrative.

The costume design, by Tuan Pham, was impressive and consistent across characters. For a play so rooted in history, this was crucial to the story’s successful portrayal. Jaidan Mereki Leeworthy’s lighting design was standard, but nevertheless what the production demanded, and was seamless in its execution.

The set design was also impressive – it was detailed, yet not crowded, and made use of all its elements. Although the moving of furniture between scenes prolonged some transitions, the effectiveness of the set ultimately outweighed this minor problem. The orchestra are also to be commended on the music, which worked seamlessly in and out of the performances. There were some moments where the music was somewhat out of time with the actors’ singing; however these occurrences were rare and barely noticeable.

On the whole, UMMTA’s production of The Hatpin had a level of professionalism rarely seen in student theatre. Its performances were charming, humorous and emotive, its story hopeful, comedic and tenderly sad. Coherently tied together with impressive production design, The Hatpin is set to be one of the most notable student productions of the year.

Matilda Millar-Carton

UMMTA’s The Hatpin is on in the Union Theatre from September 16th-24th.

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