You can't fault director Ricky Dukes for chutzpah. After chancing upon a CD recording of this 2008 Australian musical, he decided he had to direct it. And so it is that we now find his Lazarus Theatre Company giving the show its European premiere and the Blue Elephant its first musical.
'Singin' in the Rain' this ain't: written by James Millar (book and lyrics) and Peter Rutherford (music), 'The Hatpin' tells the horrific true story of the disappearance of 13 illegitimate children, fostered out to the seemingly respectable Makin family for a fee by mothers either too poor or too ashamed to keep them. Amber Murray (Gemma Beaton) is one of those mothers, and she's determined to find out what's happened to her baby son.
In theme, tone and musical style, the show owes a considerable debt to Stephen Sondheim, and some of its ensemble numbers are even more dissonant and uncompromising than that composer's at his most obscure. Matters aren't helped here by the evident difficulty of marshalling a 15-strong cast around the small stage, and the cast's singing occasionally verges on the raucous.
But much of the score is beautifully layered, and several of the performers are excellent – particularly Beaton, and Eleanor Sandars as her friend Harriet Piper. Thanks to large quantities of dry ice and some starkly effective design – a disc of bronze paint, bright and hard as the Australian sun; a gauzy curtain that falls like the fog of memory – Dukes's production is also rich in atmosphere.