In Theatre Republic's production of the macabre murder play 'The Bleeding Tree', there is an unsettling likeness to contemporary Australian life on view.
The dark truth in The Bleeding Tree
“With a bullet hole through your neck, that numbskull of yours never looked so fine.”
This is the first line of Angus Cereni’s 2014 play, The Bleeding Tree.
The Bleeding Tree
Tandanya National Aboriginal Cultural Institute
253 Grenfell Street, Adelaide 5000
Adelaide-based director Corey McMahon says the phrase accurately sets the tone for the work, described as a black comedy, laying the groundwork of what has already happened in the work’s universe, and what is about to come.
“The deed has already been done,” says Corey, artistic director of Adelaide independent theatre company, Theatre Republic, which is staging the play at Tandanya National Aboriginal Cultural Institute from Wednesday, 9 December.
“It’s the story of a mother and her two daughters who decide to take matters into their own hands, after a lifetime of living under the cruel fist of their abusive husband and father.”
The Theatre Republic production will see actors Elena Carapetis, Miranda Daughtry and Annabel Matheson play a family of three dealing with their murder of the household’s patriarch. With the body hidden from unwanted guests, the trio mull over the morality of their actions.
Elena plays the character known as ‘Mum’, and though the veteran State Theatre artist has stepped into the shoes of a range of characters over her career, she says this one is particularly tough.
“It’s a really challenging role that scares me,” Elena tells CityMag.
“The material is really challenging. The level of nuance that’s required… [because] it’s really easy to play her as a victim. It’s about finding all of the facets of her existence and her character and personality.
“She is a person who unfortunately has a very typical life story of people who are subject to domestic abuse. But throughout this play, you see her journey from being someone who is victimised to someone who takes back their power.”
All three women have endured violence at the hands of the father, leading to the work’s instigating murder. Throughout the play, there are hints to the past experience of the three characters: “kick and scream, bumped me hard he did”.
Through the course of researching her role, Elena spoke with people about the work, none of whom found the events in The Bleeding Tree to be farfetched.
“There wasn’t an event in the play where anyone went, ‘I really don’t believe that that thing could happen,'” Elena says.
“Everyone was like, ‘I know someone’ or ‘I went to school with someone’ or ‘My auntie…’ It’s really hard, I think because most women have experienced some kind of [domestic violence].”
The Bleeding Tree is a gothic ballad set in the middle of the bush. The set, designed by Victoria Lamb, resembles a decrepit house, oozing liquid, and is paired with a haunting choral arrangement composed by Jason Sweeney.
What makes The Bleeding Tree truly troubling, though, is how ubiquitous its story is.
One in six women and one in 16 men have experienced physical or sexual violence from a cohabiting partner, Federal Government data says. A further 3.6 million Australians report having experienced emotional abuse from a partner.
“The Bleeding Tree also looks at the… the complicity of the local community, which was aware of what was going on but turned a blind eye to the plight of these women, but only decided to turn up once they learned that he’s been dealt with,” director Corey McMahon says.
“It’s only a one-hour play – a real firecracker of a play – but it is an incredibly sophisticated and complex piece of Australian theatre.”
Despite the work’s dark themes, there is humour strewn throughout the script. Jokes are delicately placed between the characters’ barked orders and traded insults.
“In true Angus Cerini fashion, I don’t know many other playwrights who can take a subject like domestic abuse and have the audience cackling at the same time,” Elena says.
“It sounds like a dark murder ballad, but there’s macabre humour.”
Previous Theatre Republic production Lines, which featured four new-recruit soldiers navigating army life, was a male-dominant work. Corey says one reason for choosing The Bleeding Tree as a follow-up was to balance the narratives of women and men within the company’s programming.
“It’s a play that showcases women: it gives voice to three powerful, fierce, brave women, and it puts them front and centre,” Corey says.
“It’s not a play about the Prince of Denmark,” Elena adds. “This story, like the people featured in this play, are real.”
Watch the trailer below.
People who feel concerned should contact 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732), DV Crisis Line on 1800 800 098, or contact SAPOL through 131 444 or 000 in an emergency.