the most impressive work MKA has yet produced... a skilled and memorable premiere.
The Trouble with Harry | Review
Cameron Woodhead | The Age
19 Oct, 2014
Melbourne Festival review: The Trouble With Harry reveals remarkable life
The Trouble with Harry is an excellent new Australian play based on the true story of Harry Crawford, who was born female but lived, successfully, for decades and through two marriages, as a working-class bloke in early 20th century Sydney. We would recognise him today as a transgender man. The public then, through the lurid coverage of a murder trial, thought of Crawford as a freak and a pervert.
Playwright Lachlan Philpott avoids this sensational tabloid frame, though the whispered disapproval and wagging tongues, and the sense of social threat towards Crawford’s transgressive life, are present in a chorus: a man (Dion Mills) and a woman (Emma Palmer) who narrate and comment on the action, and evoke in poetic riffs the pressures and gaps in the history.
The truth behind the play is even stranger than Philpott’s condensation but his aim – to portray some version of emotional reality and to dramatise the speculative intimacies involved – is ambitious and achieved with great vigour and sensitivity.
Director Alyson Campbell hits on a complex and inspired performance style that blends delicate naturalism and free-wheeling artifice, and an overt theatricality that illuminates the tensions between contemporary and period frames of reference.
And the performances are fabulous.
Maude Davey is striking as Crawford; her performance of Edwardian masculinity as real and convincing as the life on which the character is based: emotional understatement and avoidant behaviour, larrikin humour and paternal authority swirl around the pressure of a secret that threatens to unravel it all.
Caroline Lee as Harry’s wife rings true, capturing the wilful blindness of a rigid and anxious woman constrained by social stricture, but also her tough streak and her private joy.
Elizabeth Nabben gives a mesmerising turn as Crawford’s wild and embittered daughter; Daniel Last is luminous as the fragile son. Both embody with humour, pathos and moving force the fluidity of children with respect to gendered expectation.
The Trouble with Harry is the most impressive work MKA has yet produced. It’s great to see a strong Australian play receive such a skilled and memorable premiere.