The trouble with Harry – Competing narratives tousle for the right to control perspective. (Theatre Review)
The Trouble with Harry
At the time of the publication of this piece, The Trouble With Harry has ceased its season at the Seymour Centre.
If Pier Paolo Pasolini claimed that what is proper to cinema is the authorisation to construct a language of reality with the means of reality itself, then it can also be stated that what is proper to theatre is to refuse, or DE authorise the language of reality with the means of reality itself. With cinema, everything depends on the gap between the fragments of reality summoned (by surprise or montage etc) to install themselves in the discontinuity of a language, the reality of which is to capture an exaggerated point of the real. So for cinema we might be fooled into imagining we capture a certain kind of real, but no such luxury exists in theatre, as we are forced to witness language exerting itself on the actions of the real people on a real stage. Immediately, theatre can feel less real than film. Yet, in The Trouble With Harry, director Kate Gaul places her audience on either side of the stage, and points haze filtered lights in their eyes, making them both audience and performer, including a physical barrier of mystification that evokes a stirring connection with the real. Given the very modern nature of the subject matter, The Trouble With Harry appears to be a series of flickering photographs combining to make a film. By evoking the passivity of film, Kate Gaul is able to transcend the problems of the enormity of the text and create spaces for the fragments of realty summoned to install themselves.
The language The Trouble With Harry, is Lachlan Philpott imposition of a reality from Australia’s past that manages to evoke the present in a frightening display of our inability to change or progress in our shift away from the dominating white male perspective into the infinite varieties of ways to view the world. Lachlan Philpott asks us to recognise an injustice in our witness to his account of the world of Harry Crawford, while Kate Gaul asks us to consider the nature of reality itself. Here is a universe reduced to the thickness of representation amid a jumble of a strident and monotonous actuality. Philpott takes a “true” historical story, reorganises it with the discipline of creating a theatrical display which separates us from it, after which Kate Gaul brings it closer to us by sending it back into history. The Trouble With Harry, it is revealed by these two great artists, is not in Harry at all, but in our relationship to the story and our ability to embrace something tangibly close. Harry is transported through the time machine of language by Lachlan Philpott, held in time by Jodie Le Vesconte and sent back, altered by our perspective by Kate Gaul. It seems only in undergoing this transformation, are we willing to hear Harry’s story.
Still, the story is never Harry’s. The Trouble With Harry is told through the observations of those around Harry with whom he has a relationship – or in some cases simply to those with whom he lives in close proximity. Harry it seems lives in the eyes of others, in our perception of him, and through history in our judgement of his actions. He doesn’t exist as he presents himself, he exists as we see him. Indeed we all live this way, but for some of us the mask we wear protects as well as annihilates. Yet, what makes Harry Crawford so interesting is not so much the imposition we force upon him, but the strident vehemence with which we uphold that perspective.
Is this not precisely what we are seeing in the elevation of Donald Trump to office? Donald Trump is not there because American’s think he is a great leader, but because the straight white male narrative needs to reassert itself against the racial minorities voice, the LGBTQ voice and above all else, feminism. The justification of Trumps ascendance is something we do after the relief of his arrival. Trump is the embodiment of mansplaining. To imagine that we would treat Harry Crawford any differently today than the way he is treated in Australia all those years ago, is to miss the point. It is Harry’s constant assault on our conversation, our perspective and our control of the narrative that makes him so dangerous.
At the time of writing this piece the production at Seymour Centre has ceased. Kate Gaul amassed a superb team of creatives to bring Lachlan Philpott’s words to life. The list of names reads like a whose who of great creative talent in Syndey 2017. Nate Edmonson composing and performing sound, Alice Morgan’s production design and Matt Cox giving us the exquisite lighting that becomes so important to Kate Gaul’s ability to whisk Harry back and forth through time. Chilling performances from Thomas Campbell and Niki Owen call forth the poetry of gossip, its lure and its deliciousness. Jane Phegan and Bobbie-Jean Henning give us the women at the centre of Harry’s life with all their foolish desperation to be close to him. Jonas Thomson is enthralling as Harry’s adopted son and Jodie Le Visconte is a wonderful casting choice as Harry, made even more poignant as she struts her stuff toward the start of the production, flirting with women and embodying the phallic archetype.
One hopes this production of The Trouble With Harry will be available for other audiences at other times, and that may well be the case. Keep track of it here, and if you get the chance make sure you catch it.