The Mutant Man
Space Arts Centre, Westferry Road
Harry Crawford’s (Clementine Mills) secret in Christopher Bryant’s dark, expressionistic thriller The Mutant Man is one that casts a suspicious shadow over the death of his wife Annie. At birth, his sex had been defined as female, but he lived his life as a man and this is raised as evidence implying guilt at his trial for murder.
The play centres on the dramatisation of Harry’s arrest in 1920, shifting backwards and forwards between the trial and earlier events in his life.
His birth name was Eugene Falleni (Matthew Coulton). We see his sense of liberation as he disguises himself as a man to successfully get jobs usually reserved for men, and to be able to sit drinking in their company. But on a long sea voyage as part of an all-male crew, he is found out by the ship’s captain who rapes him. As a result of this, he becomes pregnant.
No wonder Harry feels it necessary to keep quiet about the sex he was assigned at birth. It is probable that his wife only realised this secret shortly before her death.
What we see of the court case provides both circumstantial indication of murder as well as the possibility that the death was an accident. However it is clear that Harry is also being judged on his attempt to define his identity as male.
The writing is tight and at times poetic in its use of repetition and rhythm. The story is told very much from the point of view of Harry, and all the characters are performed sympathetically by just two actors (though they changed roles so swiftly at times I did fear I might miss which character they were playing).
A disturbing soundscape by Sebastian Atterbury creates an unsettling mood which is emphasised by lighting, shadows and projections. At one point, when Eugene, lit from below, examines himself in disgust, his huge distorted shadow is cast on the back wall as if it is an externalisation of his feelings.
This is a fine, well acted play given a very imaginative production by director Heather Fairbairn. My one reservation is the acoustics of the venue itself, which can add a slight echo distortion to the actors voices.
Harry Crawford and Annie lived in a world that rigidly forced people to live according to a set formula of gender expectations. Their tragedy shows what can and shouldn’t happen when the gender rules are broken.