Deceptive Threads is a play that takes the phrase ‘the personal is political’ and applies it to family history. David Joseph, a Lebanese Australian performer of all sorts, has created a production that delves into the experiences of his grandfathers, one a Lebanese refugee and the other a singer turned spy. Like many Australian theatremakers, Joseph addresses themes of belonging, place and identity. In particular, Joseph’s honouring of his grandfathers touches on the history of Australia’s strong anti-immigration leanings and racist legislation.
It’s a difficult topic, especially in the current climate, and Joseph manages it deftly. Multimedia is very well used in the performance, from the flashing images of newspapers to the digital needle and thread, each moment is perfectly placed next to Joseph’s stage presence. The sound design is likewise powerful, although there are some rather sharp transitions between noise and silence. Joseph’s physical and literal rhythms and use of the space are entrancing, and his command of the visual helps him spin the audience from humour to seriousness as required.
The main issue with the performance is the first scene. It diminishes everything that comes after it, it feels pantomime and innocent. While the drive to make the symbolism of threads explicit by having old woman Fate onstage with her sewing equipment makes sense, it interfers with the stark presentation of the rest of the performance. A large part of what makes the production so engaging is the way that Joseph presents each fact about his grandfathers as discrete pieces of information, trusting that the audience understand that these are not single moments, or even single threads, but rather moments that are woven through one another and into Joseph himself. The motif of thread is a strong one, and it’s just not necessary to explain its mythological importance onstage.
Like pretty much everything staged at fortyfive downstairs, Deceptive Threads is well worth your evening and your money. This is the kind of art needed in 2016, art that prompts reflection of our country, our histories, and our future.
Deceptive Threads is on from the 9th until the 20th of November. Tickets are available at the door, or online at fortyfivedownstairs. The show starts at 7:30 Tuesday to Saturday, and 5pm on Sundays.