A good play
The Trouble with Harry | Review
Raymond’s Theatre Reviews
21 Oct, 2014
The Trouble With Harry, Northcote Town Hall, Tuesday 21st October 2014
‘The Trouble With Harry” is a new work by the award winning playwright Lachlan Philpott. It played at the Northcote Town Hall and is directed by Alyson Campbell. “The Trouble With Harry” is produced by MKA: Theatre of New Writing and Darebin’s Speakeasy in association with the Melbourne Festival.
There was a poorly projected announcement from the stairs prior to entering the theatre. We were near the front and could hear the announcement and sadly those towards the back would not be able to hear it. They should have repeated the announcement inside the theatre. Plus no usher was abiding by their own rules by asking people to switch off their mobile phones. So why bother with the announcements?
We were issued with a set of headphones that had blue lights. As the lights dimmed we were given instructions through the headphones to ensure that the blue lights were facing forward. There was also a technician on hand if anyone had any issues with their headphones. A simple request to raise your hand and the technician would give you a new set of headphones. A simple and effective introduction.
The clarity of the headphones was much to be desired. The initial announcement gave us an opportunity to set our desired volume. Sadly the clarity of the voices of the man and the woman played by Dion Mills and Emma Palmer was very crackly, muddied and inconsistent. Was it to give it a 1920’s wireless sound? I doubt it as at other times it was clearer. I think the sound quality diminished when they used the two standing microphones as it was better when they were relying only on their radio microphones.
Using the two standing microphones I guess was to establish the role of a male and female narrator. They were also wired (“bugged”) with radio microphones. It was not too clear when they were narrator, observer and other characters. This was also due to the staging of moving the man and woman around and sometimes into the shadows and they were also masked by other performers.
I liked the idea of the man and woman narrating, but it was the differentiation between observer, and other characters that was not clearly defined. Lachlan Philpott in his play “Bison” used a similar device of having his actors look at only three points: 1. at the other actors, 2. the main character or 3. the audience.
Here the looking at the audience was more distracting as the central focus of each scene was not staged to create clear locations.
The set and costumes by Eugyeene The created a 1920’s feel. They used a series of steel frames to create doorways, bars, doctor’s surgery and other locations. There were portable and fixed lighting rigs. The portable lighting rigs danced a duet with one of the characters to illuminate a scene. It was very cinematic at times and reminded me of the new musical version of Baz Luhrmann’s “Strictly Ballroom” in concept.
The Northcote Town Hall with its imposing and austere presence created an authenticity to the 1920’s era. The huge lights hanging from the ceiling created a sense of power and impending doom. If these large lights were to fall then the whole world would come crashing down. The lights do not fall but the world of Harry and his family come tumbling down.
The best part was when the frames were lined up to create visibly identifiable locations. I loved the slight cross over of the two larger frames as they created an art deco doorway with leadlight windows. There was a long row of fourteen by three windows, a total of forty two windows that created a sense of the house and its surrounding neighbourhood. It was particularly effective when we could see inside their house. We as the audience are the flies-on-the wall, eaves-dropping on their private lives. The windows were also effective as the other characters could be observing as if through the neighbour’s curtains. These were some of the most memorable images.
The acting was good for the main characters as their relationships are established. Caroline Lee played Annie Birkett with Daniel Last as her son, Harry Birkett. They had an honest 1920s sensibility to their relationship and behaviours. While Maude Davey played Harry Crawford with a blokey swagger and rehearsed mannerisms. Maude’s voice, though not deep, had a hint of the 1920s’ sound bites. It would be great to hear her develop more of the 1920’s vocal quality.
Josephine Falleni was played by Elizabeth Nabben and gave the production the ticking time-bomb it needed to create more drama. Josephine observes the action from a doorway for a good part of the start of the play. I liked this device as it enhanced our curiosity of: who was she, what has she got to do with the story? Her entrance and effects on the story are like a cyclone. Her relationship with each of the other characters varies and creates conflicting dramas. I particularly liked the sensitivity with her and the young Harry Birkett. Together they created the chasm between innocence and worldliness.
The man and woman narrators/observers provide more of a visual radio-play quality to their two dimensional characters, for example a neighbour, a barmaid etc.
The play is based on true events of the 1920s and uses many parts of the large Northcote Town Hall. They use the doorways as effective entrances, we see behind the curtains and down underneath the floor as if in an outside shed. The depth of the town hall is so large I can understand why they chose to use the headphones. But it is a little like the chicken or the egg in what came first with the designs and direction. Was it the location or the concept of using the headphones.
Lachlan Philpott has written a play that speaks largely of the 1920s era. My parents are of this era and some of the language was a bit modern.
Lachlan Philpott in conjunction with Alyson Campbell have created a good play with some work could be great. My partner and myself knew that Harry Crawford went to trial but did not pick up it was for the murder of Annie Birkett his wife. This was not clear from the script and the direction. Maybe the final dance through the curtains was a dance to her death.
The play is advertised in the Melbourne Festival brochure as one hour and twenty minutes while it ran for ninety minutes.
A good play that required some clarification and clearer direction at times.
My partner has asked that I put up my scores for each production. This gets 7/10.