The Boston Curse
Blue Room Theatre
Review: Jan Hallam
When the governments and media of the country fall silent on the wholesale tragedy of Australia’s off-shore refugee policy, it is encouraging when the creative arts step up.
Threshold is part of that narrative as it seeks to strip off some of the deeply questionable political layers that have built up over one of Australia’s darkest and sinister policies since the end of World War II.
So politically, I’m with you Team Boston Curse.
The play focuses on government manipulation of the media to keep “our borders safe” and the latter’s often crass and shameful hunt for an audience. So far, so accurate. It will not pass a thinking audience’s scrutiny that a national columnist’s extraordinary claims about “us” being colonised by “them” is currently being debated.
While immigration is a broad theme, the treatment of refugees on Nauru and the media ban on visiting detention centres is the play’s anchor point.
So, what does a headline chasing reporter (suspended by his new editor for overstepping the legal line on a sexual assault case) do with an invitation from the Immigration Minister to visit the Nauru centre for a ‘familiarisation’ of the facilities – singing from his song sheet, of course.
The reporter, Bill Mackenna, whose ethics seem as fluid as the 6 o’clock swill, also begins a relationship with a young human rights lawyer, Kylie Bywaters, and so starts the re-education of our scruffy hack.
Writer James Palm certainly hasn’t shirked the big issues in his theatre debut – perhaps, however, he’s taken too big a mouthful for 75 minutes. And director Bridget Le May has, arguably, slightly overdone the sliding walls/dancing stagehands scene changes. But both of them have chosen their cast wisely.
Benj D’Addario is a confident Bill Mackenna and delivers a nuanced performance as it dawns on his character that journalists have a responsibility to continually challenge the mythology-spinning authorities. The opening scenes where the Minister’s pockets reveal that they’re deep enough to accommodate Bill and his ambitions are very telling. Those who have worked in a newsroom have seen colleagues work these slippery slopes for years. It is a serious, and very real, challenge.
Kylie Bywaters constructs a convincing and dynamic portrayal of the young lawyer Kelly Dawson – in love but not without her own tool kit of manipulation. She knows what she wants from Bill and works hard to get it.
Esther Longhurst plays Alexandra Kastellorizo, the young editor who has been dropped into the hot seat after her predecessor’s moral compass was found to be too wayward (which is astounding to think about). Longhurst grew into the role on opening night.
Her opening scenes left the audience unconvinced of her capacity to withstand the pressures of vainglory male characters but, when needed, her steely stare grabbed the spotlight. It worked, and it was essential that it did. By play’s end she has to be the moral compass – as small and pathetic as it appears.
Then there is Jeff Watkins as the Minister – an elite swimmer of slimy political waters who oozes his way around the assemblage with the sole intention of keeping his legacy intact.
While there are gaping holes in the plot of Threshold, which at times dents the drama, there is belief in the characters. These portraits are tantalising, but something cries out for more. For deeper, more meaningful action?
Some of those deficiencies can be healed within the theatre, but I fear the biggest emptiness can only be healed from outside.
Threshold continues at The Blue Room Theatre until August 25th.