Written by Australian playwright Lachlan Philpott, The Trouble with Harry is a story about Harry Crawford, who was made famous after it was discovered that he was born female. It’s set within Crawford’s historical milieu, the suburbs of Sydney during the First World War, as he and his wife Anne work to raise their child. But secrets begin worm their way to the surface after Crawford’s daughter returns unexpectedly.
The performance occurs within the vast expanse of Northcote Town Hall and, possibly because of the poor acoustics, each audience member is given a set of wireless headphones to hear performance through. It’s an intelligent method of delivering dialogue in such large space, making the piece intimate and secretive.
The set design is minimalistic and fuses with the pre-existing architecture of the hall – 19th century Classical Revival – an ideal space for the work. The lighting design is ominous and looming, characters cast enormous shadows over the high walls of the hall and performers frequently move the lights through the space giving the environment the impression of coming alive.
The work is a dramatisation of Crawford’s struggles and the action of the show is led by two chorus/storytellers (Dion Mills and Emma Palmer). Mills and Palmer transform from narrators to characters as they lead the audience through the struggles of the family, often through sections of poetry that’s emotionally charged and affective.
The performances are strong. Maude Davey’s portrayal of Crawford as a staunch paterfamilias has delicate undertones that resonate with the complexities of living as a transgender man. Caroline Lee embodies the anxiety and fragility of one caught performing her gender-role as Crawford’s wife. Similarly, Elizabeth Nabben as Crawford’s daughter marks a shift to the energy of the piece, as she storms into the space jaded and often uncompressing. Finally, Daniel Last depicts the subtle innocence of the son caught by his own spurt into puberty and his discovery of Crawford’s true identity.
The Trouble with Harry is a fascinating exploration into the performance of binary gender roles, which resonates with contemporary debates on the staunch expectations placed on relationships and the difficulty that comes with difference.