Oh dear. I hope – indeed, I know – it is not too much to ask of a production to make clear who exactly is who and what exactly is going on. The Mutant Man has so many scene changes it is a surprise I didn’t vomit from dizziness. For example, in one scene the show sets itself up as being in a court for a three-line monologue, presumably of verbal evidence submitted to the said court, before another scene change comes along. That is hardly enough time to establish anything in terms of narrative or even the general emotion of the scene.
The programme makes reference to two characters, Eugenia (Matthew Coulton) and Harry (Clementine Mills). There are, however, other characters, but again, it takes a while to establish this properly.
Without these other characters even listed, it appears that the performers are being done a disservice insofar as their ability to play various characters in the same show is not properly recognised. I wasn’t aware that the trial of Eugenia Falleni was a real event in Australia in 1920, and learnt more about it in a few minutes reading details of the case online once I got back home than I did watching this production. So much for being able to understand a play without prior familiarity with the source material.
It is good to see more and more shows making use of technology. Here, however, not all the videos and projections are helpful, and once or twice they threatened to draw attention away from the storyline itself. The extent to which they are used is not consistent, either, leaving almost nothing to the imagination in one scene and borderline confusion in the next. Microphones positioned on tables on stage worked when they wanted to, or so it seemed. When they were used and for what purpose didn’t always make irrefutable sense. Fretting between amplified and unamplified voices meant the noise levels were unnecessarily uneven. As the actors were very good, there was never any need to strain to hear what was being said anyway in a relatively small performance space.
I could barely work out whether the sequence of events was in chronological order. I assume, on reflection, it was not: were events being spoken about in the courtroom being re-enacted so the audience gets to see some action and not just have everything described? The ending wasn’t very effective. What could have been a heart-rending final moment is instead spoiled by a ridiculous (and, to me, comical) comparison between Eugenia and Jesus Christ, arms outstretched as though being crucified. The script, at least, is strong, and gets rather poetic on occasion, though its delivery in this production was a tad too melodramatic to be convincing.
The show provides some things to ponder on, however. There are still, sadly, miscarriages of justice that occur, sometimes down to prejudiced views. I seriously doubt, though, that Eugenia Falleni would have been convicted of a serious crime against the person purely on the basis of being transgender today. But this production does, implicitly, make an interesting point about looking to the facts and not jumping too quickly to conclusions, something which holds much relevance in the age of social media and 24-hour news channels.
Review by Chris Omaweng
The Space is delighted to announce the world premiere of The Mutant Man by award-nominated Australian playwright Christopher Bryant. In this gripping look at the famous trial of Harry Crawford in 1920s Australia, Heather Fairbairn explores the beginnings of society’s understanding and treatment of transgenderism.
Directed by Heather Fairbairn whose previous work includes Assistant Director on Ophelias Zimmer (Katie Mitchell/Schaubühne/Royal Court), The Mutant Man tells the story of Harry Crawford as he stands trial for the murder of his wife. The trial is a farce: the case is filled with false witnesses and Harry’s gender dysphoria is blasted across the newspapers. As the trial continues, the tragic events making up Harry’s life come to light.