‘The Trouble With Harry’ Northcote Town Hall

troublewithharry

Allow me to rave.  No- before I do, if it’s before November 9 when you’re reading this,  open a new tab and find tickets and buy them. Right now.  If it’s after November 9, then you’ve missed a wonderful show.  Remember the name and look out for it.

I’ve been fascinated with Eugenia Falleni’s story for some time and have reviewed Mark Tedeschi’s book Eugenia here  and Suzanne Falconer’s book Eugenia: A Man here.  If you’re not familiar with Eugenia’s story, you can see her ADB entry here.  Eugenia Falleni lived most of her life as Harry Crawford in post- WWI Sydney where he worked as a ‘useful’ at various factories. He was convicted and found guilty of the murder of his wife, Annie. This play adopts a different slant to the two books that I have read by placing a queer interpretation onto the relationship between Harry and his wife.  The dramatist, Lachlan Philpott does not give definitive answers: instead he opens up possibilities.

Apart from my fascination with the subject, I was drawn to see this because it stars Maude Davey (who played the minister in the excellent movie My Year Without Sex– one of my favourites) and Caroline Lee.  But, by the end of the show, I really couldn’t have identified any one actor out of the six in the cast as ‘the star’ because they were all excellent. Excellent.

It is staged at Northcote Town Hall which is just like any other 1900-ish town hall- stage at the front, large hall behind.  They do not use the platform at all, but instead utilize about 2/3 of the space at the front of the hall as stage, with temporary raked seating placed in the rear 1/3 of the hall.  The set is minimal: a large wooden box, a wall of panelling which looks at first as if it is part of the fabric of the Town Hall itself, and several steel structures, not unlike the legs of a table with the table top removed.  The actors themselves shift these around the performance space, turning them one way to be a pub bar, another way to represent a front porch; another way to represent a window. The set is fluid and changing continuously throughout the play

You are handed a set of headphones as you enter the hall.  Not only does this give scope for the use of a soundscape to supplement the admittedly sparse set – bird calls, fairground, night sounds- but it also acts to unsettle you as listener when you hear whispered asides that would otherwise have been lost in a more conventional sound production.  The script itself comprises mainly short sentences, often uttered over the top of each other.  There is a ‘chorus’ of a man and woman who comment on proceedings  in short stanzas, like a poem. The headphones help, I think, in keeping the different voices distinct.  It is a strange, disconnected experience, though.  You feel very much as if you’re watching it alone, completely immersed, and it’s not possible to nudge the person next to you and comment on what you’re seeing.  At one stage, people laughed and I’m still not sure if it was the audience around me, or whether it came through the headphones.

This is a fantastic production- one of the best plays I’ve seen in a long time.  It is lyrical and it has emotional depth.  It’s clever.  See it if you can.

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