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Lachlan Philpott’s diverse strengths as a playmaker are all on show here. He has tackled a cruel, obscure but all too human footnote in Australian history to produce a piece of theatre that is full of atmosphere, importance and provocation. The ‘man-woman’ murder that piqued the salacious appetite of Sydneysiders in the 1920s is a truly remarkable story, and a difficult one to tell on stage.
Harry Crawford’s unexceptional suburban marriage to Annie unravels with the arrival of Josephine, a daughter who simply leaps off the page. As the play reaches its dark conclusion, it powerfully examines questions that remain compelling in present society: ideals of homemaking, parental responsibility, sexual morality, love and trust, along with the rights and challenges of same-sex marriage. It is a sophisticated and atmospheric world, constructed in great detail within a raw and distinctly Australian story. The dialogue is excellent, each character vivid and convincing, and their dogged and brutal living circumstances beautifully realised. Philpott brings broader scope to the drama through his typically confident sense of theatricality, using choral figures to represent the play’s central questions of the fluid nature of gender and identity and the disturbing possibility that human beings can perhaps never truly know each other — that intimacy will always involve deception. The Trouble With Harry is a beautiful and atypical Australian play.