Deceptive Threads is an intriguing work by Bowerbird Theatre exploring the notion ‘that in our history lies the key to our future.’
Devised and Performed by David Joseph, the work sees Joseph plunge into his own history to discover and unravel truths that have both informed the work and himself.
“Ancestor shrines I had seen whilst touring Asia initially inspired the piece. I had wanted to do a similar thing, to honour my ancestors, but in a performative context,” says Joseph in explaining the genesis of the work. “The original plan was to use rhythm, ritual and myth as the main modes of expression, but once I started to delve deeper into my grandfather’s stories I was inspired to create a show focused on the archival material itself.”
“Creating this show has been a revelation of sorts in that I’ve discovered things about my family that I could have never have made up! There are so many uncanny connections and weird links on, so many levels, that I simply had to tell them to the world.”
Deceptive Threads tells the extraordinary true stories of Joseph’s grandfathers – one a Tivoli singer turned ASIO spymaster who vetted unwanted arrivals, the other an early Lebanese immigrant who had to lie about his birthplace to gain Australian naturalisation.
“Researching this show was a real journey of discovery where I uncovered some family mysteries that had had us wondering for decades,” says Joseph. “There are also some secrets that will never be revealed, hidden as they are within the national archives under classified files. These files are part of my maternal grandfather’s life as an ASIO spymaster. The family knew later in my grandfather’s life that he was an ASIO agent (and later a spymaster!) but the details were, and to a great extent still are, murky.”
“I’ve realised the complexity that exists within each of us and how a person’s character can contain many hidden facets – this was certainly the case with my grandfathers, and it’s been really fascinating to get to know these hidden aspects of their lives.”
Vitally and uniquely, the work also draws parallels to the current refugee story. “My grandfathers span the chasm of what it means to be Australian – one, an ASIO spy, was upholding the myth of a White Australia and keeping people out under the guise of an alias, whilst the other, a 19th century Lebanese immigrant, had to lie about his identity to gain naturalisation in a climate of hostile racism,” says Joseph. “As a product of these two men I am confronted by how their narratives intersect through me, and how, as a contemporary Australian, I am forced to deal with an immigration policy that offends me deeply.”
“My grandfather’s narratives, and the secrets that lie therein, reflect the long history of systemic racism that lies at the heart of our national identity – these two concurrent realities, the personal and the national, are tied together in the show through a complex weaving of archival documents, sophisticated stagecraft and rhythmically charged storytelling.”
Joseph is exploring a number of issues in the show, including the nexus between personal and national identities, Australia’s history of systemic racism towards immigrants and the complexities of identity construction. These themes are all related and the show highlights the way that the personal and the political are interconnected.
Joseph is a professional physical performer with 30 years experience in the performing arts sector as well as a Green Room Award Winner. What lies at the heart of his craft is the telling of a good story.
“This can take on any number of forms and what often happens is that the content itself drives the form,” he says. ” Form and content, and the melding of the two into a successful whole – this is what interests me as an artist.”
Deceptive Threads is the winner of the prestigious Khayrallah International Art Prize, and dexterously weaving the threads between past and present, the play will resonate. Says Joseph: “Deceptive Threads is a beautiful show full of stunning visuals and sophisticated projections, incredible true stories full of family secrets and very relevant themes that speak to the heart of what makes us Australian. ”
November 9 – 20