Article/Review

A timely tale of political intrigue

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Review: The Boston Curse, Threshold ·
The Blue Room Theatre, 9 August ·
Review by Steven Cohen ·

Director Bridget Le May and writer James Palm, of local outfit The Boston Curse, may not yet have the following of David Williamson or the wit of Sophie Treadwell. But in presenting Threshold, at the Blue Room Theatre, these theatrical activists voice one of the most significant Australian stories of the century.

Why did the Australian government send asylum seekers arriving by boat to Nauru? What happened to them on Nauru? Why did the government ban journalists from the island? Is the Australian government trying to shut down our free press? What lengths will we go, so that we can lie indefinitely in a gated community?

Using reverse chronology, Palm shows his hand (so to speak). Through reflection and naturalism, the play depicts the xenophobia of modern Australia, with all its political intrigue. In doing so, it shows up our nation for what it really is: a country where the dispossessed are abandoned by a supposedly civilised government.

Through inter-woven relationships, the political intrigue plays out: Kylie Bywaters as Kelly Dawson and Benj D’Addario as Bill MacKenna. Photo: Fuzzy Focus Photography.

With gripping dialogue peppered with plenty of humour, the plot is, nonetheless, rather predictable for a political drama. Turncoat journalist Bill MacKenna (played admirably by Benj D’Addario) uncovers the reality about Nauru. He is left with a grim and perilous choice: tell the truth and risk his career, or lie, take the money and go against his principles. A ménage à trois – comprising D’Addario, a dynamic Kylie Bywaters (the standout performer here) as refugee lawyer Kelly Dawson, and Jeff Watkins as the dislikeable Immigration Minister Peter Franklin – forms another relatively conventional but well-structured plot device. Through these inter-woven relationships, the political intrigue plays out.

The design elements add to the intrigue. Sets are transformed between acts by the performers and black-clad stage hands, using  jagged, abstract movement set to dramatic discords of the type synonymous with horrorscapes. The lighting, too, is fragmentary.

Alongside the deception and manipulation lies another important tale, about the collapse of print media and the influence of government in shaping the story. Esther Longhurst is erudite as Alexandra Kastellorizo, a newspaper editor caught between selling papers and upholding relationships with the government. This back story could have been fleshed out; in an age in which  journalists are accused of surrogacy, there is a real risk that we are losing a free press to puppet masters and pay keepers. This story needs to be told, away from the Twitter and Fox News echo chambers.

Ultimately, however, it all works well; the fractured plots, the political-charged characters and the Brechtian focus on society. In one sense, it is our own little Lehrstück, teaching us the difference between right and wrong, and all the grey in between. In another sense, the play illustrates the effect of power and the reason why Machiavelli will never die.

Worth seeing.

Threshold plays The Blue Room Theatre until August 25.

Pictured top is Esther Longhurst as Alexandra Kastellorizo. Photo: Fuzzy Focus Photography.

Jeff Watkins as the dislikeable Immigration Minister Peter Franklin. Photo: Fuzzy Focus Photography.
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