WHAT is the truth and how can politics and the media distort it?
That is the central theme of Threshold, a play set in a Sydney newsroom in 2016.
The play was inspired by journalist Chris Kenny’s first visit to Nauru in late-2015, but there’s also an “opaque reference to what’s happening in the US at the moment” and the “fake news movement”, says playwright James Palm.
Kenny was the first Australian journalist allowed in to Nauru for almost two years.
During his trip, he realised how politics and press censorship had aided in masking the true extent of suffering and abuse of asylyn seekers imprisoned on the tiny island.
The protagonist of Threshold is Bill Mackenna (Benj D’Addario), an experienced hack struggling with his conservative ideas of gender, the Australian immigration system and the role of the media.
After years of working under male managers at his newspaper, Mackenna is broadsided by the appointment of female news editor Alexandra Kastellorizo (Esther Longhurst).
His new girlfriend, refugee lawyer Kelly Dawson (Kylie Bywaters), also challenges his beliefs, gradually encouraging him to look at the Nauru situation through a more humane lens.
This puts Mackenna’s long-running relationship with the country’s immigration minister, Peter Franklin (Jeff Watkins)under strain.
More right-wing and ruthless than Mackenna, Franklin’s view of the immigration system is distorted by his own political agenda.
Palm insists the character is a “caricature of different negative people” and not explicitly based on Australian home affairs minister Peter Dutton.
Palm took several years to write and develop Threshold, and director Bridget Le May came onboard during the second draft of the script.
After looking for something that centred on the immigration debate, Palm says Le May “attached herself to the project immediately”.
Threshold is on at The Blue Room Theatre in Northbridge until August 25.
by WADE ZAGLAS