These Trees Are Made of Blood at Southwark Playhouse
These Trees Are Made of Blood is a highly innovative piece of theatre that incorporates cabaret and showtunes to depict the abduction, rape and torture of thousands of people who disappeared during Argentina’s Dirty War. This juxtaposition may seem tasteless, but every aspect of the production is executed masterfully, proving to be a powerful and effective method of getting an audience to personalise such atrocities and digest them as something real instead of an abstract history lesson.
Throughout the first act, the compère gets the crowd relaxed and in good spirits. The compère in question is General Videla, the fascist leader of Argentina, played by the magnificent Greg Barnett, a decadently versatile master of ceremonies. A Chaplin-esque sidekick, played by cabaret poster boy Alexander Luttley, provides ample laughs, but the feeling of unease increases as a grieving mother (Val Jones) seeks out her daughter (Charlotte Worthing), who goes missing on a political rally in the midst of all the hedonism.
The whole room is utilised as a performance space, from the runway to the table in the centre of the room, which is later used as a scene of torture. The cast break down the fourth wall, forcing the audience to accept a degree of complicity; in many scenes people don’t know whether to laugh or sit in muted shock. A supremely talented live band plays throughout, occasionally morphing into the cast as the play progresses. The songs and lyrics channel Kurt Weill and Trey Parker – always hilarious and frequently unsettling.
As the second half arrives, the pacing has changed. Disarmed by magic tricks and distractions, the audience are primed to digest the unpalatable reality of what occurred to the thousands of people who disappeared. Gripped with an iron fist, you are confronted by stock footage of thousands of grieving mothers and then haunted by the faces of the young people who were never found. All of the cast deserve to be mentioned by name, but special mention must go to visionary director Amy Draper, writer Paul Jenkins and composer/lyricist Darren Clark. As the General says in court when charged with killing dissenters: “An idea is a dangerous bacteria that can’t be eradicated.”
Similarly, this exceptional political satire will be difficult to forget.
These Trees Are Made of Blood is on at Southwark Playhouse until 11th April 2015, for further information or to book visit here.