Thursday, May 10, 2018

The Bleeding Tree - Griffin Theatre

Review by John Lombard

Like Antigone, The Bleeding Tree is about a dead man denied burial.  But where in Antigone the festering corpse is a source of anguish, here it sparks exaltation.

The Bleeding Tree begins like a murder mystery.  The darkness is broken with a gunshot, and the lights slowly rise on three women: a mother and her two daughters.

But we immediately learn that culpability is shared: one knocked out his legs, one struck his head, and the third fired the shot.  In self-defense the three have killed the drunken, abusive man of the house, and now must hide the crime with the body.

The play toys with the idea that their guilt will be discovered, or that one of the three will be overcome with remorse and confess.  But with the murdered man a vile character, the play instead questions whether this was even a crime.

The three actors - Paula Arundell, Sophie Ross, and Brenna Harding - play the not only the women of the family, but slip into playing the members of the community who stroll by at inconvenient moments.  Their performances were perfectly embodied, and caught the authentic Australian music in playwright Angus Cerini's dialogue.

Having only three performers and a tilted clam shell set created intense focus, just as though the audience was also part of the crime.  The way the three would move around the space also suggested the shifting alliances and relationships.

For a play staged as an embodied poem, it was strikingly visual, with Cerini's vivid descriptions - especially of the festering body suspended in a tree - creating vivid images in the mind's eye.

As grisly as the play often was, the horror was cut through by a wicked and welcome sense of humour.

The Bleeding Tree is alternately gory and darkly funny, a fresh and distinctively Australian accomplishment.