The Bleeding Tree. By Angus Cerini. Directed by Lee Lewis. Griffin Theatre in association with the Canberra Theatre Centre. The Playhouse. Canberra Theatre Centre. Until May 12. Bookings canberratheatrecentre.com.au or 62752700.
A shattering sound of a gunshot blasts through the darkened auditorium, jolting an audience into riveted attention. Slowly the shadows are evident and the lights reveal three women, standing at the edge of a raised stage, subtly painted in the colours of the dry earth of the outback. Creatives Renee Mulder (design), Verity Hampton (lighting) and Steve Toulmin (sound) evoke a sense of foreboding, of mystery and drama.
Striking in its simplicity, and expressive in its dramatic impact, the production focuses the drama on the performances of three outstanding actors.
Paula Arundell as the mother is a tower of strength, defiant in her resilience, yet fractured by the years of abuse and cruelty at the hands of a drunken, violent husband.
The daughters, played by Sophie Ross and Brenna Harding, join their mother’s chorus of hate and justification.
The victim of their crime lies before them, hit over the head by one daughter, kneecapped by another and shot through the neck by the mother. Their desperation has brought them to the terrible point of committing a murder, because there is no other recourse. It is a problem shared by a powerless people, compelled to suffer the injustice of their abuse.
Angus Cerini’s incisive revelation of society’s failings confronts audiences to come to terms with his exposure of the dark and hidden perpetration of domestic abuse, most notably in the isolated Indigenous communities. Cerini’s economically and electrifying script rings out as a plea for understanding and action.
The cast vocally assume the characters of other visitors to the property who appear oblivious to a body either lying on the ground or hanging from a tree, where rats and animals strip the carcass bare. Cerini’s language is both sparse and graphic, but he lightens it with black humour, creating a sense of astonishment. Even in the midst of horror, it is possible to see the comedy of circumstance and human contradiction.
The Bleeding Tree is a harsh, uncompromising account of revenge, written as a poetic statement on divine justice by Melbourne writer Cerini and directed with a direct and powerfully honest sense of significance and portent by Lee Lewis.
As a lesson in compassion and tolerance this brilliantly staged drama shines a light on a society’s failure to address a national disgrace.
How can it then justly condemn a powerless victim from exacting an “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”? It is a moral dilemma that raises the question but is yet to provide the answer. The Bleeding Tree is must-see theatre.