Staggering display of violence and revenge in a rural town
By Lois Maskiell
Angus Cerini’s acclaimed play, The Bleeding Tree, received three Helpmann Awards and the NSW Premier’s Literary Award since its 2015 premiere. Now, as a first for Melbourne audiences, Arts Centre presents this Griffin Theatre Company production and the results are staggering.
It begins with the death of a violent man: female trio including a mother and two daughters take down the man of the house with a knock to his head, his knees and a shot to his neck. Their relief is unmistakable – suddenly free of the “shit-stink man” who was “a slack-arse disgrace” – their years of torment are evident.
Cerini’s powerful mixture of prose and verse is elevated by a piercing performance on the part of Paula Arundell who wholly inhabits the mother – the role for which she earned Helpmann Award for best female actor.
The daughters – swamped with the shock and liberation of murdering their father – are a powerhouse of intensity and fervour. Brenna Harding excels as the severe younger sister who questions the morality of their act, while Sophie Ross stands out as the leader, pent-up with unapologetic rage. The trio occupy multiple characters with ease: we meet Mr Jones who stops in after hearing the gunshot, Mrs Smith with her cake and “half copper half postie” Steven.
Such a phenomenal display of acting raises questions at the heart of the play: Is a victim of violence culpable for murdering in self defence? Why do the public turn a blind eye on domestic violence?
Having struck an impressive relationship between text, structure and performance, director Lee Lewis has crafted a complex yet simple production. The stage floor, designed by Renée Mulder is spectacularly angular, amplifying light and shadow only to add to the pervasive and dense atmosphere.
Lewis steers clear of any obvious choices. By arranging the dialogue with its spoken stage directions and multiple roles skillfully, she holds you on the edge of your seat. And without giving everything away, a gap between what’s said and shown leaves the audience to hang from every word.
This is brilliant, jaw-dropping theatre at its best, achieved with all but three women and a few tea cups for bone broth.
The Bleeding Tree is being performed Arts Centre until 19 May. Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 1300 182 183.
Directed by Lee Lewis with design by Renée Mulder, lighting design by Verity Hampson and sound design by Steve Toulmin. Featuring Paula Arundell, Brenna Harding and Sophie Ross. Photograph by Brett Boardman.