100-year-old true story of transgender man put on trial comes to life in new play The Mutant Man

Amy Ashenden

A new play is bringing the 100-year-old true story of a transgender man put on trial for murder to a theatre on the Isle of Dogs.

The Mutant Man recreates the trial and conviction of Harry Crawford which became intensely sensationalised when the public discovered that he was transgender.

Harry Crawford was sentenced to life imprisonment by an Australian court for the murder of Annie Birkett. Crawford had been presenting as a man for 22 years until he was outed as transgender and raped by a sea captain.

The play, at The Space Arts Centre, promises to be pertinent as ever – 100 years later – as “it draws some uncomfortable parallels to the world today”, explains playwright Christopher Bryant.

He told the Standard: “The world seems to be wildly swinging between an acceptance of difference and complete conservatism.

“In the current political climate I believe we need more stories that highlight and normalize difference, and overall, that’s what this story aims to do.

“The play came from a director friend of mine suggesting I investigate Harry Crawford’s story. I was immediately struck by the duplicity that ran through their life, from childhood to death, and similarly struck by how we know a lot about Crawford’s life, but by how much we also don’t know.”

The Mutant Man is a two-person play, with just Crawford on trial and a younger Crawford, also known as Eugenia Falleni.

The Mutant Man

Bryant says this allowed him to explore gender more creatively: “Because of this structure I’ve been able to go deeper into Crawford’s psyche, and explore their relationship with gender and gender performance.

“Given the time period, there was no awareness or acceptance of gender difference or transness, so the fact is that it’s impossible to say definitively whether or not Crawford was trans.

“I’ve been careful not to make any statements in the play, but its story explores what it would’ve been like to grow up in a society with extremely restrictive views of gender and femininity, and the power and privilege that could be attained by presenting as male.

“It’s almost a dual storyline – it follows Eugenia as their parents attempt to force them into an arranged marriage, dealing with questions of identity and their early explorations with gender presentation and the creation of the Harry Crawford personality. At the same time, we see Harry as they meet and marry Annie Birkett, and dealing with the fallout of Birkett’s disappearance. Binding both together are a series of scenes of Crawford’s trial and arrest - the play unfolds as a jigsaw puzzle.”

The Mutant Man runs until April 8 at The Space Arts Centre on the Isle of Dogs in east London.

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