Review: The Bleeding Tree, Southwark Playhouse

Almost unbearably beautiful, The Bleeding Tree is a poetic Aussie diamond, playing now at Southwark Playhouse

“Look at the door”

In the repressive heat of the Australian outback, a man lies dead. A husband and a father, his wife and daughters stand over his body having done the deed and over the course of an hour, The Bleeding Tree explores both how it might have come to pass and the consequences. In Sophie Drake’s production, Angus Cerini’s play proves something extraordinary, Australian to its core with densely poetic language whipping up endless atmosphere.

Nothing is quite as it should be – the community around the women hustle and bustle to find out the truth of what has happened. But as we discover the extent of the domestic abuse in that household, those same voices were strangely quiet. As Cerini probes into what could be the trigger for such an explosive crisis, there’s an appalling recognition to the kind of society that lets situations get to this point, that will tolerate such misogyny yet react so quickly when the tables are turned.

Cerini doesn’t load the dice though, in fact he withholds much detail in a tantalising manner. Its a bold move, suggesting shades of grey in this sphere but he pulls it off, particularly in the lack of outright judgement being presented. Mariah Gale, Elizabeth Dulau and Alexandra Jensen are phenomenal in the way they multi-role such distinct side characters on top of the mother and daughters that they play, agonising in the almost-thriller nature of what comes to pass.

Creatively, Drake delivers a masterclass in atmospheric storytelling. Jasmine Swan’s design locates us firmly in the Outback but abstractedly so, Asaf Zohar’s sound design equally transportative and Ali Hunter’s lighting dances around the stage. All combine in a perfect duststorm, a truly striking look at the way society struggles to deal with domestic violence and with those who are forced to deal with it for themselves. Highly recommended.

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