Review: The Bleeding Tree – Southwark Playhouse

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Captivating, larger-than-life performances

By the time I saw the blood-red gravel strewn across the thrust stage at Southwark Playhouse I already knew the premise of Angus Cerini’s The Bleeding Tree. But had I not, this simple, but deeply impactful, set piece would have been a good indication of the macabre events that were about to unfold writes Caitlin Odell.

Bar a distressed grey backdrop and three wooden crates sitting on the gritty floor there was very little else in Jasmine Swan’s decidedly sparse set. But this is a great example of when less is more, because aside from being visually dramatic, and perhaps indicative of the domestic landscape in which our protagonists live, any more may have risked detracting from their captivating, larger-than-life performances. 

Image by Lidia Crisafull

As the lights come up, we are immediately made complicit in a murder, as a weary mother (Maria Gale), who is also a victim of longstanding domestic abuse, stands over the body of her husband. With her two daughters Ida (Elizabeth Dulau and Ada (Alexandra Jensen) at either side, they all stare at the empty space where the corpse is supposed to lie, frantically disputing what is to be done next.  

One of the play’s most defining features is the dialogue, which is almost lyrical in style. The three women deliver short, staccato lines, often interjecting to finish each other’s, which has the double effect of building tension whilst adding an element of dark humour. Instead of feeling sensationalist, their morbid fascination and fixation on the gruesome details of the incident (such as the gaping wound in the deceased’s neck), feels more like a nod to their humanness.  

But from the dialogue to the stage direction, everything that unfolds from thereon after does so with timing so airtight that a synergy is formed between this dynamic trio. As the only cast members, they take it in turns to seamlessly morph into other characters, to depict vignettes, fraught with tension and humour, of unwanted visitation from prying members of the community. And it’s the unexpected turns of events in these visits that change the course of the narrative entirely. 

But despite offering an uplifting alternative to what feels like a sealed fate, it is far from a neat resolution. This reclaimed story of domestic abuse urges by-standing communities to take the opportunity for redemption, by offering their support before the situation escalates irreparably.  Southwark Playhouse Borough until June 22nd. Admission: £22, £18.



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