Set in 1920s Sydney, The Trouble With Harry is based on the true story of Harry Crawford. Born a woman, Eugenia Falleni, she fled Italy to live in Sydney, carrying on with life as a man and marrying twice.
Harry’s daughter Josephine (Bobbie-Jean Henning) – a product of a rape – has arrived following the death of her adopted mother. Harry’s wife Annie (Jane Phegan) is suspicious of the teenager following her previous visits to her ‘father’. As Annie’s son – also Harry (Jonas Thompson) – begins to have questions of his own, Josephine’s arrival lays the groundwork for the family to unravel.
It’s interesting that the play, written by Lachlan Philpott, frames the story around the events leading up to Crawford’s famed murder trial, as opposed to the trial itself, in which he was tried as a woman. However, in doing so we get a strong sense of the bonds of this family unit, and the stakes at play that keep it together yet also lead to its demise. A duo of narrators in Thomas Campbell and Niki Owen bring a poetic nature to the presentation, not only as a Greek chorus reacting and engaging with the characters, but also serving as the watching eyes of neighbours, workmates, passers-by and other gossip mongers, whispering and making assumptions of their own.
Jodie le Vesconte is stoic as the lead, playing Harry with a strong inner world and sense of identity, with Henning also stealing the show as the perfect mix of mischief, rebellion and teenage vulnerability. Set design by Alice Morgan also supports the poetry of the language in its simplicity.
In an era where queer stories are finally becoming more mainstream, it’s great to see one told from a historical Australian framework. As this is Sydney’s premiere as part of the Mardi Gras festival, we can only hope that next time it comes around, it’s produced by a mainstage.
The Trouble With Harry is playing at the Seymour Centre until Friday March 3.