The Trouble With Harry

The Trouble With Harry
By Lachlan Philpott. MKA; Theatre of New Writing and Darebin Arts Speakeasy in Association with Melbourne Festival. October 18 – November 9, 2014.

MKA’s rise in the Melbourne Theatre scene has been meteoric.  Over the period of the past three or so years they have produced much interesting, stimulating and refreshing theatre.  This is no exception and a fine achievement.

The Trouble with Harry explores the scandalous subject matter surrounding the transgender life of Eugenia Falleni,who lived as Harry Crawford. Her story was brought to the public eye through a salacious murder case in 1920.

The production pivots around Harry (Maude Davey) and his acquired and biological family.  There is an easy physicality between Harry and Annie Burkett played with all the respectability of the era by Caroline Lee.  It is fascinating enough watching two actors of this caliber navigating the truth of the scenario.  Female to male ‘drag’ without parody and exaggeration is a very tricky thing that is pulled off so intriguingly by Davey.

Burkett has a son, Harry Burkett, who is delightfully embodied by Daniel Last.  This little family’s world becomes shaky and vulnerable with the introduction of Harry’s biological daughter Josephine Falleni (Elizabeth Nabben). 

It is a complex poetic text that incorporates two narrators or chorus, Woman – Emma Palmer and Man - Dion Mills.  These two deal in contemporary mores with an unsettling and aggressive approach.  It would be very interested to see what would happen if the chorus had the sensibilities of the 1920s.   Emma Palmer also doubles as a nosey neighbour of the Crawford family, a brazen and unkind character.

The Northcote Town Hall has been ‘Immaculately Restored’ and is visually beautiful and, pretty much, era appropriate to the story.

Earphones are distributed to all as a way to contend with the difficult acoustics of the cavernous space of the Town Hall.   Through this, I imagine, performances are evened out vocally.   The narration is bold and brassy; by contrast the characterization of Harry and his family is acute and sincere.

There is an unevenness of acting styles that may well be a directorial choice by Alyson Campbell.  Although Elizabeth Nabben as Harry’s volatile and boisterous daughter Josephine Falleni is able to straddle the divide.  She is loud and brash but also able to elicit sympathy through her disappointing rough and ready sexual liaison with a sideshow worker. Nabben delivers a sparkling performance.

Eugyeene Teh’s design is edgy and the use of metal frames on wheels allows for quick useful space changes and constant fluid delivery of the text is inspired.  She also dresses Eugenia Falleni exquisitely.

There is a bit of unnecessary repetition in the mostly masterful writing (Lachlan Philpott).  Not all the vignettes ring true and there are jarring and uncomfortable moments scattered throughout out that don’t seem purposeful – or where the actors have not yet wholly connected with the text.

However overall this is a rich and entertaining offering that will doubtless grow over the next couple of weeks.  It would be a pity to miss this challenging lively totally home-grown work.

Suzanne Sandow

Photography: Sarah Walker

Director – Alyson Campbell

Producer – John Kachoyan

Woman - Emma Palmer

Man - Dion Mills

Annie Birkett – Caroline Lee

Harry Birkett – Daniel Last

Harry Crawford Maude Davey

Josephine Falleni – Elizabeth Nabben

 

Setting and Costuming – Eugyeene Teh

Lighting  - Rob Sowinski

Sound/Composition – Chris Wenn

Choreographer – Georgia Taylor

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